Dawn, and a boy tiptoes out of the guesthouse where his mother and her boyfriend are sleeping, having no idea where to go, knowing only that he has to get away, or die trying.
An elderly countess falls in love and – for one long, torrid summer – her life is complete.
Two women, best friends and passionate fans of the writer Patricia Highsmith, follow in her footsteps in a story with a nasty twist in the tail.
A priest sits waiting for a soul to save. A happily married woman sits waiting for a lover.
This is Italy’s stunning Amalfi coast in the 1980s. No longer the secret of the jet-setting elite, cheap air flights and package tours mean that everyone can at last see what they’ve been missing. And the trickle of visitors turns to a flood.
These are the stories of just a few of those early visitors. Moving, sad, funny, they will take you on a journey to an Italy that may look familiar, but is already part of the past.
Catch it while you can.
Wonderfully vivid word paintings.
A collection of stories that brought me into the diversity of life along this Italian coastline with colour, veracity, poignancy and humour. There wasn’t a dull page or character.
Really enjoyed these, though was surprised at the thread of sadness running through them. Then again, I suppose bad things happen even in dreamland.
READ AN EXTRACT
EARTHQUAKES AND MINOR SHOCKS
When Howard switched off the car engine silence settled around them like dust. The dust itself took a little longer, but eventually the cloud cleared and they could see what they had come to see: a village in ruins.
“Oh, but just imagine, Howard. It must have been beautiful. And the views. We’re so high we could almost be flying.”
Anna was high on just being there. At long last. They clambered out of the car, flexed muscles that were sore after the long ride up into the mountains. They’d left their hotel after an early breakfast. They’d got lost three times; had taken two hours longer than Howard had anticipated, and he rarely misjudged, was famed for his ability to get you from A to B in the quickest time. That’s without breaking the speed limit, of course.
Still, this was southern Italy, not Surrey. He’d done his best.
As he was bent fiddling with the keys, unfamiliar with the hired car, a tornado struck, a small black dog from out of nowhere, snarling and snapping like a crazy thing, a dust storm with teeth. Anna screamed. Howard kicked at it but missed. Then, abruptly, the dog spun around and was gone.
“Phew.” Anna’s face wore bright pink patches. She checked the hem of her white trousers for dirt, teeth marks, unable to believe that she hadn’t been touched; re-adjusted her straw hat to the rakish angle on which she’d decided after ten minutes in front of the mirror. Howard took off his steel-rimmed glasses, rubbed them, put them back on again.
“Vicious brute. Probably has rabies. It’s common here, you know. Even the bats carry it.”
“Thank you, Howard. What a comfort you are.”
Anna worried about germs, diseases; even chipped cups made her shudder. She carried a tube of antiseptic cream with her wherever she went. The thought of being bitten by a dog was bad enough, but a rabid dog, that was the stuff of nightmares.
But no, nothing was going to spoil this day. The sky was cloudless and that travel brochure blue that usually accompanies a stretch of deserted beach. Here the sea was far away, yet surrounded as they were by greenery, by shrubs, trees, tiers of vineyards, they could have been on an island; an isolated white farmhouse could have been a distant sailing boat.
Still Anna couldn’t believe it. She was here at last, in the village where her father had been born the ninth of thirteen children, had grown into a lanky teenager, telling for years tales of that childhood: of the fractious goat who ate the priest’s cassock, was forgiven and blessed and never the same again. Of barefooted walks where snakes slithered quick as spaghetti, but still got trodden on, causing cries and consternation. Of stealing peaches as sweet and fat as Lucia, the girl he’d been in love with when they were both ten, who’d never married but had nursed an ailing sister until, when she died, Lucia had no reason to carry on living. She’d hung herself from an olive tree.
He told that story often, it was a favourite. God rest her soul, he would add, though he wasn’t much of a churchgoer. On summer Sundays he preferred picnics in the moist green countryside, was never bothered about bulls or ants or wasps’ nests. Anna, like her mother, had endured the outings, sitting neatly, warily on a rug and wishing she were elsewhere, somewhere safe, with walls.
He’d never wanted to return to the village, her father. As though in a photograph album, he had his memories tucked tidily away, could flick through them whenever he wanted. But like photos they belonged to the past. In later years he drank tea, wore a bowler hat, loved Yorkshire pudding, though he still sang opera to himself. Pagliacci was a favourite. It was so wonderfully sad.
It wasn’t until he died that Anna felt the need to see where he’d come from, to find his roots. Hers too of course. Seeking one’s roots was a very ‘in’ thing to do.
But she should have come sooner.
Now she stood with her husband in the empty square and everything shimmered. It was hot, almost unbearably so. Amongst the ruins poppies were scattered like drops of blood where real blood had been spilled only a few years ago as houses came crashing down on the sleeping villagers, crushing them, burying them beneath bricks and rubble that would take rescuers days, weeks to clear.
Anna knew all the details. She’d been glued to the television. The earthquake had struck at 4.20am on a January night when there was snow on the ground. People a hundred miles away had been woken by cups tinkling in cabinets. Many had died, over 90 in this village alone, 12 on this very spot. An epitaph listed the names of those who had run to the church for safety, had managed to get inside just before it crumbled like a sandcastle. The epitaph had been placed where the altar once stood. Anna’s family name did not appear.
“Come on, darling. Let’s look around.”