Echoes of Brontë and du Maurier reverberate in this black comedy from prolific Franco-British novelist Roberts (The Mistressclass, 2003, etc.) about a thrice-widowed British woman visiting Italy.
Aurora, a 50-year-old lapsed Catholic, has bad luck with husbands. Her first died while traveling with a rock band in the 1960s. Her second, an architectural historian, drowned in the Grand Canal. She’s just buried her third, a devoutly Catholic tax collector who fell off a cliff. After spending a few stultifying days with her overbearing stepmother Maude (who insists on calling her Dawn), Aurora decides to visit her Italian friend Leonora. When they met 20 years earlier, Leonora was a feminist activist. She is now the abbess of a convent in Padenza, but not like any abbess the Church wants to claim. At Leonora’s request, Aurora brings to Italy the pistol her father bought her mother for protection 50 years ago. (The ease with which she gets it through customs is scary.) Maude also ends up in Padenza with members of her parish, including the disconcertingly handsome Father Michael, a proponent of Jungian synchronicity who plans to attend a conference Leonora has organized. Because there is no room for her at the convent, Aurora stays in an apartment run by another old friend, Frederico, whom she has always assumed is gay. While Aurora battles mosquitoes and other inconveniences (there is no hot water), intrigues ensue concerning convent relics, Church politics and secrets of both sex and identity. Aurora finds herself in bed with Father Michael, who may not be a priest, and romantically pursued by Frederico, who may not be gay. How she finds her happy ending is a bit of a shock. Aurora is not to be trusted as a narrator, but she is mordantly funny.
Junk food for spiritually oriented intellectuals.