Saturday, 21 August 2010

Book review - A House in Sicily

It's pretty hot down here in Calabria. Poor bel fidanzato is the only person not on holidays. Since returning from Scotland I have been to the beach a few times but always go in the afternoon as it is just too hot to go for the entire day. I like going to the beach and always take a book with me as it gets rather tedious just sitting around all afternoon people watching. However I always carefully choose my beach books - I don't choose something light-hearted, I don't take an intriguing thriller...I take a book that I don't really care for so that is it gets wet/ruined I won't care. So not always the best books for a book review!

I often buy English books on the internet so it's never guaranteed I'll enjoy them. Loving Italy as I do, I like reading books about Italy - which some people think is strange as I live here and all. My latest beach read was A House in Sicily - Daphne Phelps. 

This book originally caught my attention as it is a true story set in Taormina, Sicily which is where I lived a few years ago. The author, Daphne was a British woman and the book is based around a beautiful villa which her uncle, Robert Hawthorn Kitson built in Taormina since he had fallen in love with the mild climate and picturesque views of Mount Etna. When she first mentioned the name of the villa, Casa Cuseni, I had no idea which villa she was talking about. I am no means an expert on Taormina, but I did work in the tourist industry so knew somewhat about local sites and attractions. She doesn't describe very well where the house is, and the photos in the book are of the guests or the garden rather then the house itself. It was only after internet searches that I realised it was the villa I walked past everyday as it was down the road from my apartment.

In 1948 while the world was still recovering from the war, her uncle died and the house went to the aunt's reader. Being an older woman with no interest in travelling to Sicily to see this house, she asked her niece, Daphne to go...and thus begins the readers love affair with Taormina. I can all to well understand what it means to have a love affair with Taormina and I looked forward to reading this book but just a few pages in it was annoying me. Daphne writes about the villa, her lack of money to restore it in the post-war era and her decision to open her doors to artists, writers etc...and have paying guests help maintain the villa. She gets side-tracked though and each chapter is dedicated to someone who visited the villa (such as Ronald Dahl not that she knew who he was) or someone who worked at the villa. There is a chapter on her meeting the head of the local Mafia, a chapter on some poor gardener who worked for her, a very long chapter about this strange artist friend and his herd of animals...

I was skipping chapters left, right and centre, and only forced myself to read them when my afternoon at the beach was but young and I had a lot of time to kill. Sadly I have to say this book had such potential - it is set in Taormina but far, far to much focus is given to the people she met along the way and not enough about her or her actual life in Taormina. An ok beach read but nothing to get excited about (in my opinion anyway.)

9 comments:

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I found this to be a snoozer too. I read it probably six or seven years ago, and I think I remember being interested in it for a few chapters, then BLAH. As you said, a shame, b/c it really had potential.

LindyLouMac said...

Leanne based on your review and Michelle's comments I think I will just give this one a miss.

By the way if you are interested in any of the books I review, I can often arrange to send them to you! I often share books with a number of other keen ex-pat readers here in Italy. If you take a look at my Bookcrossing Profile, there is a list of titles that are travelling at the moment. I also have a Bookmooch account and would happily send any of the titles listed there on to you.
http://www.bookcrossing.com/mybookshelf
http://bookmooch.com/m/bio/lindyloumac

Leanne in Italy said...

Hi Michelle,
So you too thought the book was a let down. After reading such great reviews on the internet I thought it was just me!

Hi LindyLou,
Don't bother reading it. :)

LindyLouMac said...

Ok Leanne, as they say too many books too little time :) Thanks for the review though.

Books Set in Italy said...

Oh that's a shame you didn't enjoy it! Do you also like reading novels set in Italy? If you have any suggestions of novels you have read and enjoyed that are not on my list here http://www.packabook.co.uk/books-set-in-italy.html then I'd love to hear about them. Always looking for more books to add!

Leanne in Italy said...

Hi Books set in Italy,
I'll have to come over and check out your list.

LindyLouMac said...

They are hoping to tempt you to buy from them Leanne, Shock horror!!

Packabook - Books set in Italy said...

Well of course we'd love you to consider buying some of the books via us - but there is no obligation! I'm sure there are plenty of people who look at our lists and get them from the library - but as I said, we are always keen for recommendations to help us build up a definitive list of great books set in particular places. And people who live in a place can often help us more than others. Packabook has developed out of a genuine love of books and travel, and the fact that reading novels set in countries helps you to get under the skin of that country.
If you choose to buy something through the site, that is completely up to you.
Anyway - would still very much love to hear your thoughts...

LindyLouMac said...

I am sure that I would end up buying books if I spent too long on your site, as I always enjoy finding more titles set in Italy. I do always review all books I read so you may sometimes find more titles on my book
review blog.
http://lindyloumacbookreviews.blogspot.com/


Apologies Leanne for hi-jacking this conversation but I was unable to leave a message for them on their site for some reason earlier.