1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resister. At twenty six, she is already on to her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the only man she can never have, and all the beauty and and money in the world can’t change it.
2017 and Francesca Hackett is living La Dolce Vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza – famed socialite Viscontessa Elena Dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.
Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memories. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life.
Before I review this I want to give a huge thanks to Pan Macmillan for giving me an early copy to review. Karen Swan is one of my favourite authors, and I have reviewed two of her previous books on my blog, so I was excited to read this.
The Rome Affair is one large fabulous read, there is nothing I don’t like about this book. In previous blogs I have mentioned my love affair with all things Italian and this just fed that addiction. Rome, The Eternal City where the past and present live together is a very apt setting for a book where the characters and their stories have to live in the present but with past actions impeding on their lives. The two central characters may seem very different at first, an Italian Princess living in a palace full of treasures and a young woman, living in a small and dingy apartment not knowing where her next months rent is coming from. However, as the narrative proceeds we see that both women have secrets in their past that still effect them today. I loved Cesca as a character, she is intelligent, strong, quirky in her dress but still has a faint air of vulnerability about her. As a trained barrister she is able to see under Elena’s varnished veneer and glimpse the truth about her life, and the shocking secret at the heart of it. Elena, on first sight may not gain the readers sympathy; who could feel sorry for one of the richest girls in America, who has every privilege in life and can buy anything her heart desires. However, we slowly come to see that living that life has its problems and that money can’t buy the one thing Elena never had, love.
The narrative is split between present day Rome, where Cesca finds herself sorting through Elena’s photographs and interviewing her for the biography, and the true story of Elena’s varied and sometimes scandalous past. Throughout we are drip fed small clues and facts to both Elena and Cesca’s secrets, each chapter brings us a bit closer. I have to say once I started this book I couldn’t put it down, like the secret tunnels under Rome there were so many twists and turns I was never quite sure where the story was going to lead.
The Rome Affair is a fabulous book, it has so many layers to get lost in, and multi faceted characters to grab your attention. An engaging book perfect to read with a nice glass of Posecco this summer.