Monday, 27 June 2016

The Italian Girl - Lucinda Riley

An interesting peek into the world of Opera.

I came across Lucinda Riley in a very strange manner. Her name was scribbled across the last page of a Susan Howatch book that I finished. The dark letters on the yellowed page said something. Perhaps the previous reader had jotted down Riley as the writer to check out? So yes, Riley's name seared into into my memory. Her popularity hit me, when her books lined up my shelves of my public library. 

I picked this one for its interesting backstory. Apparently, this book had first come out years ago, as one of her  earlier works. I reckon she was not that popular then. But then as her fame caught on, her publishers thought packaging her earlier novel in a new cover might be a sound idea. What was called Aria, was then repackaged as The Italian Girl which was welcomed by her readers. 

Rosanna is a girl with gift - her magical voice. Helping her parents in their cafe, Rosanna's gifts go unnoticed except for her brother Luca. One day, Roberto Rossini, the charismatic opera singer hears Rosanna sing and urges her to take lessons. Rosanna who has lost her heart to him, agrees. She finds an ally in Luca and together they embark on a journey that takes her to the heart of the glittering world of Opera.

The story takes the reader through the streets of Naples, to Milan tracing the highs and lows of its characters as they balance fame, emotions and secrets in their lives.

What works:
  • Atmospheric detail. Riley brought Italy alive in my mind. I could smell the warm dough, the tomatoes and the wafting smell of the risotto. The smells and sounds of Italy are present in the descriptions and the dialogues and that to me was one of the highlights of the story.
  • The characters. They are strong yet flawed in their decision making. I loved Abi and Luca's story as it ran through the main thread of Roberto and Rossanna. I also liked the way at each stage how the character flaws moved the story forward, an important learning curve for a student like me.
  • The writing. It is smooth and fluid. There is not much depth to the story, but it keeps you engaged and makes you want to know what happens next.
  • I particularly loved the letter writing device which has been used very well to narrate the story. 
What doesn't:
  • It is a tearjerker and a romantic story. There are moments when the plot seems to drag and becomes predictable. At a point it is so easy to predict how the story will take a turn with the twist that is coming, pulling the protagonists apart.
The writing though good is not very profound or hopes attempt anything literary. It is a fairly average story, but what makes it different is its Italian and opera setting and the way in which Riley gets her characters to act - a character driven story through and through.

An enjoyable read. Recommended.

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