Saturday, 21 August 2010
Book review - A House in Sicily
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.)