The Rome Affair by Karen Swan
Publishing Date: 13th July 2017
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review!
Number of pages: 480
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)
The glamorous capital city of Italy is brought to startling life in The Rome Affair, a compelling summer novel by Karen Swan.
1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty 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 memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a 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.
Karen Swan is one of the authors from my auto – buy list. I love all of her books and she always surprises me with the plot, the storyline and the setting, easily transporting me to the fictional world of the characters and getting me immersed in her multi – layered novels. And also this book, “The Rome Affair”, was so exceptionally well done, and the way it was unravelling all the secrets had me hooked. Guys, I think this book would make an excellent movie! I’d say that it was a character driven story. There were surprises on the way, and secrets, some of them really shocking but to be totally honest there were maybe two or three real twists, and all of them actually at the end of the book, so the whole long story was actually a great build – up to a brilliant, explosive ending, and while usually such constructed story would drag on, “The Rome Affair” was a complex, curvy, totally brilliant book that I fell in love with. And the end was so fantastic that I could cry. Really. And I also loved how many meanings the title of this book – The Rome Affair – had.
The characters are more than brilliant. They are unforgettably complex, multi – layered, all of them experienced so much in their lives, and it was such a great thing to see all the layers slowly unpeeling, our eyes getting bigger and bigger not totally believing what they see. The author has – again – so easily transported me to the characters’ worlds and I quickly found myself immersed in their lives, feelings, emotions and history. Elena, thrice married, is a proud, enigmatic woman. The story shows us her past, both happy and unhappy and how she was actually made to love. Francesca is confident, lovely and you just want to have such a girl in your circle of closest friends. A barrister from London, but fleeing from her past and now living in Rome, working as a tour guide – and she’s the one who’s going to write Elena’s memories. You could trust Cesca, no matter what she was always telling the truth. She had principles and she wasn’t afraid to put her foot down when things started to go out of a hand. They are the two main characters in this story, accompanied by some really great background characters that won’t want to leave your head, even days after you’ve finished reading the book.
The story flips between past and present, between lies and truth and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the two versions of Laney’s life! This juxtaposing of Elena’s “real” life and the version she gave to Cesca worked so, so well and I couldn’t wait for the moment that she’s going to discover the truth – because I hoped that she will do. We were in much better and comfortable position than Cesca as we were able to quickly establish that there are many layers to the Principessa and so many layers to her life. And so we follow Laney – also known as the luckiest girl in America – but was she really? – starting when she’s 16 years old in the 1960s, then following her to California and the NYC in the 1970s and finally to Rome in 1980s. We accompany her in her journey through life, as young bride, wife, divorcee, widow… Elena is not a straight – forward character. At the beginning you can’t help but fell for this poor, rich girl schema but then, gradually, you start to think if she’s really worth your feelings, if it’s the real face she’s showing to the world – and I loved this complexity! And then there comes the end and you change your mind again, seeing that she was a woman with passion, a woman who loved unconditionally. There were so many faces to Laney, guys, and it was thrilling and fascinating. To be honest, I couldn’t wait for the story to get us back to Laney’s story again, it was engrossing and so colourful, and while I loved Cesca, Elena’s life was truly much more fascinating – even with Cesca having her own secrets! However, after those secrets being so highlighted in the story, with Cesca mentioning them all over again you could expect it is going to be a huge part of the book, or be a very significant point of the story – but the thing is, it wasn’t. It didn’t change anything. It maybe helped to understand Cesca this little bit more. But still, it brilliantly work altogether with the whole plot.
No one can probably do a setting like Karen Swan do. I loved the setting of this book – the very idyllic city of Rome, with restaurants, piazzas, with the forgotten places and glamorous, majestic palaces with 1000 rooms. It was like a much better version of a travel guide, introducing us to Rome’s culture, traditions, secret places, food and people.
It was simply an addictive read, even though it was not the easiest one – you know how sometimes you just go with the flow and everything is so light – hearted and easy? Well, it was a little different with this book and I can put my finger on why it was like this, but it also doesn’t mean that I couldn’t get into this story – I could, however I had to concentrate more on this beautiful, expressive and very vivid prose – I loved the writing style. It is a slow burner, this book, and the beginning feels a little slow, when the author introduces us to the characters and their history, but I also appreciate the fact she took her time to do so and gave us the opportunity to get to know every single smallest detail of their lives. Altogether, “The Rome Affair” was incredibly clever and absorbing novel about the lengths one will go for unconditional love, about sorrows, grief and appearances, showing us that often behind the glamour, designer clothes and jewels there is loneliness, lies, scandals and tragedy. The mystery there was so clever and so intriguing, with plenty of lies and secrets, misunderstandings, glamour, glitter, mystery and intrigue, written in incredibly clear way – there was not a single moment that I felt confused, it was so easy to keep track of all the things. Brilliant and well – developed, this book took me on a great roller – coaster ride into emotionally charged past and present. A gorgeous story full of dolce vita and romance about passion, abuse, loss, heartbreak and hope. A must – have page – turner! Highly recommended!