Although Marlen Haushofer's The Wall was in many ways a harrowing read, she could have made it even more difficult for the reader--really manipulated them emotionally. Luckily she didn't, but after spending time in such a stark world, I have to say I am in the mood for someting altogether brighter and happier. Certainly sunnier and one with some complex human relationships/interactions. Fall seems to have turned to winter here overnight (blustery and cold and all the leaves seems to have fallen from my trees in one go), so Italy sounds like a perfect (reading) travel destination.
I have Lyn at I Prefer Reading to thank for introducing me to Lettice Cooper's Fenny. I have had The New House on my shelves for ages but wasn't familiar with this other story--she wrote over twenty novels along with children's books and a few biographies). As I had to request it from ILL it has floated to the top of the library book pile and I decided to start reading and see if it suited my mood. The story takes place in Italy between the years 1933 to 1949. I've only just started reading, but a few chapters in and already I have fallen easily into the rhythms of the story. Lyn called it a pageturner and I think from what little I've read so far, she's right. Just what I need now.
How often in novels do you find that Italy causes a transformation for its heroines? Just think of Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View (one of my all-time favorite books by the way). Fenny is Ellen Fenwick who takes a year-long position as governess for an expatriate family living abroad. She falls under not only their spell but that of Italy, too. The Tuscan countryside is a long way from her Yorkshire home where she was a teacher in a local school. Now her charge is a precocious young girl. She is treated almost as one of the family and less as a governess and becomes part of (at least peripherally it seems) the expatriate community, of which I believe she will be an interested observer.
The story promises to have a romance, but I don't expect it to be a frothy concoction that is all about pleasure and not much about substance (though there is certainly a place for that sort of story, too, in my reading). I'm more curious to know how Ellen becomes Fenny and how the coming war impacts her life. The book description hints at quite a good story: "Here (the Villa Meridiana in the Tuscan hills) she tastes her first cocktail, cuts her hair, becomes 'Fenny'--and falls in love. But in this closeknit expatriate community, relationships are often not what they seem: as fascism threatens the heart of Italy, Fenny is forced to come to terms with both emotional and political realities."
My teaser is a scene early on in the story when Ellen first encounters Florence on her own after spending her first few days in Italy with the family and young girl who is to be in her care. I know this feeling of excitement and adventure.
"This was the first time that Ellen had been alone in Florence. She had not brought her guide-book, and without it did not know how to find the things that she wanted to see. She sauntered along the Via Tornobuoni looking in the shop windows. It was one of the fasionable hours. Elegant women--Italian, English, American--strolled on the pavement, shining cars nosed their way along the street. Elderly ladies in pairs, with elaborate veiled hats and antique summer dresses, tottered towards Doney's for their five o'clock cup of tea. It amused Ellen to watch this decorative world, but when she came opposite to a mirror in a shop window she was struck by the incongruity of her own sober figure, in the grey tweed coat and skirt, with her grey hat tipping forward as usual on her coils of hair. A few doors farther on she came to a hairdresser's, where there was a notice in the window that they spoke French and English. She went in and asked them to cut off her hair."
That certainly sets the tone, doesn't it? I'm looking forward to reading about Fenny's adventures and watching her transformation!
*(By the way, and I hope she doesn't mind, I snagged the cover illustration from Lyn as my copy has an ILL sticker covering the front cover and I dare not peel it off to scan it).