Published by Penguin Viking, 23 July 2020, 368 pages, £2.99
I’ve been an avid fan of Dinah Jefferies since The Tea Planter’s Wife; always entranced by her divine descriptions of far-flung places, historical detail and quietly powerful heroines. It’s always the highlight of my year when a new Dinah Jefferies novel is announced. My favourite is The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, which is set in colonial-era Vietnam. This latest venture has an experimental approach and is set in Italy during the Second World War.
The novel has everything to love about Jefferies’ writing; the stunning scene-setting that makes you feel the warm Mediterranean breeze on the nape of your neck. It’s about two fascinating and very different women who fight for their freedom and the men they love: elegant and refined Contessa Sofia, and confident and daring Maxine, an Italian-American spy. Like all Jefferies’ leading ladies, they have admirable courage and learn about their identity through place. It’s also brimming with emotion; comforting joy, age-old love, passion, heart-ache, striking pain and unrestrained desire. You’ll easily marvel at the sheer beauty of the Tuscan landscape contrasted with the horrors of the German occupation.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find this as strong as her previous work. I was missing the exciting build-up of a central love story from the old formula, as well as the unassuming nature of the heroine. Sofia and Maxine are different from Jefferies’ previous characters and I found it tricky to connect with them, especially as the focus was split between them. Some passages were also quite long and slow at times, causing the momentum to slip and feel scattered. Even though this wasn’t for me this time, I appreciate the author’s attempt to try new concepts, the gorgeous writing and careful research.
Many thanks to the Viking team for my copy!