A U.S. debut by British author Edwards-Jones skewers a provincial ex-pat community toughing it out amid the sensuous wilds of Tuscany.
For five years, 40-something Belinda Smith has owned and operated a fairly high-end B&B in the rarefied Tuscan valley of Val di Santa Caterina, near the town of Poggibonsi. A snobbish, petty divorcée from the “dull dormitory town” of Tilling, England, which she fled upon discovering her husband in bed with a neighbor, Belinda prides herself on her thoroughly affected Italian way of life. She spies on her ex-pat neighbors from her terrace perch, mangles Italian phrases, abuses the help as well as her small, neat daughter, Mary, 20, who has been fired from her London job and is spending the summer helping Mum for the busy tourist season. Belinda, in truth, is a misanthrope, can’t stand children or smokers anywhere near her place, weeds out the riff-raff by the nature of their Internet queries, steams labels off jam jars to deceive her guests, and spends most of her day drinking gallons of wine at the local watering-hole with fellow sodden ex-pats such as Manchester ladies’ underwear manufacturer Derek, his wife Barbara and alcohol-fueled novelist Howard Oxford, who has suffered writer’s block since his bestseller in the ’80s. She also offers entries from her chirpy diary and corny recipes from “Casa Mia.” When the neighboring Casa Padronale is purchased by an American, no less, Belinda instantly switches into battle action to subvert any attempt at a rival B&B. Owner Lauren, it turns out, made her money in hostile takeovers on Wall Street, and she chews up Belinda like a stick of gum—all while her handsome Yalie son, Kyle, courts the modest and dutiful Mary. Edwards-Jones has fashioned a near-bloody satirical stab at the sentimental Under the Tuscan Sun set, both American and English—with a result quite winning.
A fresh, fearless voice takes no prisoners.