A lush and sultry novel that takes place partly in Rome and partly on a boat sailing the Italian Riviera? How can it go wrong?
The Invitation, by Lucy Foley, indeed not only does NOT go wrong, but it hits the mark by a mile. I selected the book because of its Italian location (in particular, the time spent in the Cinque Terre, which is my favorite spot in Italy), but I was surprised and pleased to find an elegantly written novel of love, intrigue, and survival in the days following World War II.
Hal is a struggling journalist who moves to Rome to try and forget what happened to him in World War II. One night, after crashing a socialite’s party, he meets the mysterious Stella. They have a wonderful night together, though she shares nothing about her life with him. This is part of her allure. They part the next day, never anticipating meeting again.
Later, the Contessa, who was the person who held the party and who took a liking to Hal despite the fact that he crashed her party, invited him to join her and friends on her boat that was going to make its way to Canne, where a film she financed was going to open. She asked him to be the journalist covering the story. Much to his surprise, he learns that Stella and her husband – a rich and powerful man who also is financing the film – are part of the group.
His interest in her is sparked once again, but this time he sees that she is a different person when she is with her husband. As the novel progresses, we learn Stella’s story, as well as just what happened to Hal in the war that impacted his life in such a profound way.
I loved the location, but I also loved the story and the characters. Hal seemingly bears the weight of the world. The Countess is wise and kind. Some of the more peripheral characters are interesting and funny. We learn Stella’s back story little by little via flashbacks, and see why she is so fearful of her husband. We even gain an understanding of what makes her husband seem so cruel.
The ending was, in my opinion, spot on. The Invitation was a great read that I can highly recommend.