Rosanna Menici is only eleven years old when she first meets Roberto Rossini, the son of her parents’ best friends. Roberto is an opera singer at La Scala in Milan, a career which to Rosanna seems impossibly glamorous and out of reach. At a family party, Roberto hears her voice and recommends that she have singing lessons, but Rosanna tries not to get her hopes up. Her parents run a restaurant in the Piedigrotta district of Naples and although it is a successful business, they are not rich people and singing lessons are expensive. But when Rosanna’s brother, Luca, comes to the rescue and helps to pay for the lessons, it seems that her dream of becoming an opera star and marrying Roberto could eventually become a reality.
The Italian Girl is a lovely, romantic story spanning three decades and taking us from the streets of Naples and churches of Milan to a peaceful English village and some of the world’s greatest opera houses. It’s not a new novel – it was originally published as Aria in 1996 under the name Lucinda Edmonds – but has been revised and updated so that you wouldn’t guess it had been written so much earlier than the more recent Lucinda Riley books.
One way in which this book is different to the other novels by Lucinda Riley that I’ve read (The Girl on the Cliff, The Light Behind the Window and The Midnight Rose) is that the others have dual narratives, jumping between past and present, but this one, apart from a few letters written by an older Rosanna, follows one linear timeline. I like both types of book, but I do prefer to stay in one time period so I was happy with that aspect of The Italian Girl. Although this book isn’t really what you could call ‘historical’, being set in the fairly recent past, I think I would still have liked more period detail as the 1960s chapters didn’t feel any different from the 1970s or 1980s. On the other hand, this is a story driven more by the characters and their relationships rather than by the setting.
I initially found the young Rosanna a very endearing character. Things did seem to fall into place for her too easily, but I didn’t mind because I liked her and wanted her to succeed. Later in the book, though, I began to find her frustrating. I disagreed with a lot of her decisions, but I was hopeful that she would do the right thing in the end. As for Roberto, I had thought at first that he was going to be the sort of romantic hero I could fall in love with along with Rosanna…suffice it to say that this certainly didn’t happen, but I won’t spoil the story by explaining why not!
While the relationship between Rosanna and Roberto forms the main plot, there’s also a secondary romance between Luca and Rosanna’s friend, Abi. I liked both of these characters and found their story as interesting to follow as Rosanna’s and Roberto’s. I also enjoyed learning about the lifestyle of a professional opera singer and the amount of hard work and training it takes to reach the top. I’m not an opera fan and probably never will be, but this book made me want to listen to some of the arias Rosanna sings in the story.
The Italian Girl is a long book – almost 600 pages, which makes it quite a thick paperback – but after a slow start I was swept away by the story and it didn’t feel as long as it looked. It was the perfect book to read sitting outside in the summer sunshine we’ve had here this week!
I received a copy of The Italian Girl for review.