‘The Villa’ – Rosanna Ley
When Tess Angel receives a solicitor’s letter inviting her to claim her inheritance – the dilapidated but beautiful Villa Sirena, perched on a clifftop in Sicily – she is stunned. Her only link to the island is through her mother, Flavia, who left Sicily following World War II and cut all contact with her family. Could this be Tess’s chance to find out why?
Initially resistant to Tess going back to her roots, Flavia realises the secrets from her past are about to be revealed and decides to try to explain her actions. She compiles a book of her family’s traditional Sicilian recipes as a legacy to pass on to her daughter and tells her story which began in the summer of 1944 when she rescued an injured English pilot in the countryside near her home in Cetaria and helped nurse him back to health.
Meanwhile, Tess’s teenage daughter Ginny has lost her sense of direction. She is stressed by college and by her blossoming sexuality and consumed by questions that she longs to ask her father – if only she knew where he was.
Tess, a qualified diver, discovers the beauty of the underwater marine conservation area of Cetaria and falls in love with her inheritance. But there is a mystery attached to The Mermaid’s Villa concerning the missing Il Tesoro. What is this treasure and what does it have to do with her family? Tonino Amato and Giovanni Sciarra both seem to want to help her find out. She is drawn to Tonino, who creates dazzling mosaics from sea glass in the ancient baglio and tells her of the myths and legends of Sicily. But Giovanni warns her against him. Why are they sworn enemies and who can she trust? Tess must navigate a way through the prejudices of Sicilian history and the opposition of her family’s enemies in order to find out.
Reading ‘The Villa’ very much reminded me of ‘The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris’ and ‘Better Days Will Come’ in the sense we are following grand-mother, mother and daughter, with flashbacks at how Flavia, Tess’s grand-mother, left her past behind in Sicily. As such, I felt this was quite a “safe” plot to follow and was confident from the beginning that this would work. However, I think because it was so recognisable from other books I have read, I couldn’t rate it the five stars I would normally.
The three stories of Flavia, Tess and Ginny all focus on a certain coming-of-age and understanding the path they wish to take. All three women experience the feeling of being trapped by family members and a lack of freedom about what they truly want to do. It was this theme of parallel stories that I enjoyed and it was endearing to see Flavia and Tess relate to their daughter’s situation in relation to their own past.
Despite Tess being the main character, I found myself more interested in Ginny and Flavia’s stories, only really getting interested in Tess until about two thirds of the way into the novel. I think it was because I was so curious about what ‘the Ball’ was that Ginny kept referring to (which, by the way, frustratingly isn’t actually explained until right towards the end of the novel); and I was really keen to understand the outcome to Flavia’s love for the Englishman. On the other hand, I could almost predict where Tess’s story was going and the rivalry between the two Sicilian men, Tonino and Giovanni, was just a bit too stifling for my liking.
All that being said, I did enjoy this read and was satisfied by the resolution at the end. All three women find happiness in their lives and it was comforting to see that the relationship between Ginny, Tess and Flavia become even more solid. There are lots of references to Sicilian food from Flavia and it certainly makes your mouth water! It would have been great if perhaps Ley had included a few of these recipes at the finish of the story, just to make them that even more authentic, but then it would have been even more similar to Jenny Colgan‘s novel.
I would recommend this if you enjoy women’s fiction like Jenny Colgan and Pam Weaver. The satisfying ending is heart-warming and it was very easy to enjoy. I think there are stronger coming-of-age novels out there, but this is so inoffensive and sweet, that you really can’t give this one a miss.