Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Italy, 1932 -- Mussolini's Italy is growing from strength to strength, but at what cost?
One bright autumn morning, architect Isabella Berotti sits at a café in the vibrant centre of Bellina, when a woman she's never met asks her to watch her ten-year-old daughter, just for a moment. Reluctantly, Isabella agrees -- and then watches in horror as the woman climbs to the top of the town's clock tower and steps over the edge.
This tragic encounter draws vivid memories to the surface, forcing Isabella to probe deeper into the secrets of her own past as she tries to protect the young girl from the authorities. Together with charismatic photographer Roberto Falco, Isabella is about to discover that secrets run deeper, and are more dangerous, than either of them could have possibly imagined...
Kate Furnivall's latest release The Italian Wife is easily her best yet. I feel like I say that whenever I read one of her books but it is true with this her eighth release. Kate is an author who can turn her hand to any setting or time in history and taking us back to Mussolini's rule in 1930's Italy certainly proved an eye opener for me. With one of the best opening chapters I have read in a long time, you are instantly drawn into the intriguing story of young architect Isabella Berotti. Kate's books are exciting to read and a superb story always unravels but this one was extra special. This multi-layered epic was packed full of mystery and suspense, real edge of your seat stuff as Isabella becomes embroiled in the story of a young girl named Rosa and the search for her own husband's killer.
Isabella is living in Bellina with her father, ten years years on from the shooting which killed her husband Luigi and left her childless and suffering from damage to her back and leg. This incident has had a profound effect on her and she knows someone out there must have some clues as to why her adored husband was shot. Yes he was one of Mussolini's Blackshirts but Isabella feels the root cause runs deeper. Even though Isabella had been through so much heartache and suffering I felt she was all the better for it as the events of the book would make a lesser woman crumble. Instead she uses every ounce of her energy to stand up to a cruel regime and find out the truth whether what she discovers will be to her liking or not. Having taken the day off on the anniversary of the shooting Isabella is sitting in a café when a woman approaches her saying she knows something about Luigi's killer. Before she knows it the woman has jumped from a tower designed by Isabella leaving her young daughter Rosa behind. Isabella is left shocked and confused but torn in two she wants to know the truth about the incident so many years ago but also she knows Rosa cannot be left alone in this ever changing world.
Isabella begins the search for the truth, a journey which is filled with numerous twists and turns all of which kept me guessing as to the final outcome. Also it is a time of darkness and fear as hidden secrets come to light. She soon comes to realise she is part of a much bigger picture and she is merely a pawn in a huge game. Danger, unrest and betrayal are behind every corner as Isabella and handsome photographer Robert Falco do their best to uncover Rosa's background and avenge Luigi's death. The more I became engrossed in the story and Isabella's determination to reveal the truth the more I realised she was a woman ahead of her time, a strong, determined woman who stands up for what she believes in. This was at a time when a women's place was believed to be in the home producing more children to further the Italian people and make the country more powerful.
The author just really built and built upon the tension in the story I was desperate to know the history of Rosa and what connection she had to Isabella if any. There were so many layers to this story that I lost all sense of time and place as I couldn't read quick enough. Throughout the novel we see Isabella bloom and she opens herself up more to love and life after her husbands death. This sums up perfectly the way we see a change occur within Isabella. 'He had dragged her out of the safe numb state that she had wrapped around herself like a shell, he had cracked it wide open and brought her grasping into his warm, sensitive and passionate world but she had not been prepared for this version of love'
Kate Furnivall has the magic touch when it comes to writing historical fiction, she is adept at drawing you in right from the very first word. I felt as if I already knew these characters and was invested in a successful outcome for all concerned. There was no laborious setting up that can last for at least 150-200 pages in some books, the action started in chapter one and never stopped until the last paragraph. Packed full of historical information that was not overpowering but just made the story jump from the pages. The fact that the majority of what happened in the story is based on fact is amazing. Yes the town of Bellina is fictional but Mussolini did clear marshy swampland in order to build new towns and farmland to further his country and make them self sufficient in agricultural production.He ruled with an iron fist which emanated from the pages, his propaganda was unrelenting and one thing surprised me was that people were not allowed to gather in large numbers unless it was organised by the Fascist party itself. The scene where Mussolini was speaking at an outdoor rally was just brilliantly written. All the fear, panic and desperation at what occurs got me right in the heart. Often we never get to actually read of important historical figures interacting with the main characters. They are more spoken about and feared but here when Mussolini visits the architects office and Isabella stands up to him was a fantastic scene. The tension oozed from the page you just knew Isabella's legs were shaking and the sweat dripping down her back.
People who have no interest in history or do not know much about Mussolini's time in power would do well to read The Italian Wife. Kate Furnivall has captured the essence of the time and written a book full of conflict, courage and emotion that has stayed with me long after I finished the last page. This book would make a stunning film as the scenes from the last quarter of the book were like something from a big screen blockbuster. I would love to see this happen in the future. Don't stop what you are doing Kate Furnivall this reader can't wait to see what country and time in history you will take us to next.
I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing this eBook which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.