Newly married 19th-century Italian noblewoman tragically loses her sight and embarks on a risky affair.
Indulged by her father, yet neglected by her distant mother, little Carolina Fantoni, an only child, grows into a solitary, independent young lady. Blessed with beauty and intelligence, she nonetheless chooses to spend her days and nights alone in and around a small cottage that her father builds for her on the edge of a man-made lake on his extensive property. Her unusual habits attract an eccentric young neighbor, Turri, who becomes a close friend and confidant. An absent-minded tinkerer stuck in a marriage of convenience to a local coquette, he watches helplessly as Carolina comes of age and catches the eye of charismatic Pietro, a popular ladies’ man with considerable property of his own. Smitten with Carolina’s vulnerability, Pietro courts her avidly, and she accepts his proposal. Shortly before her wedding, she realizes—with horror—that she is going blind, and a few months after her honeymoon she cannot see anything at all. As she tries to adjust to her new life in Pietro’s home, she discovers that she can still see in her dreams. Turri, meanwhile, crafts a proto-typewriter for her, which allows her to write letters. This amazing invention facilitates a romantic relationship between them, with Carolina slipping out of her bed in the middle of the night to meet her lover at the abandoned lake cabin. Torn between her connection to Turri and her loyalty to her husband, the contessa knows the dangers of her situation, even as she takes greater risks. With idyllic descriptions of the upper-crust life in rural Italy, Wallace’s enchanting debut may at times be stuck on its own preciousness, but Carolina’s struggle feels timeless.
A dreamy, sensual fairy tale.