After a huge flood in Florence, Italy, Margot Harrington, ex- patriot book conservator, is hired to repair the convent library in Piazza San Maggiore. While working, she discovers a rare piece of Renaissance Erotica. She then sells the book for the convent and begins an affair with Sando, a married Italian art conservator. Eventually, the book she wrote about her experiences was optioned as a movie but nothing came of it until years later. Esther Klein and her husband Harry were one of the first producers with an interest in the book. After Harry and Esther separate, Esther is desperate to produce a film on her own and so approaches Margot about rights to the book. A deal is struck and movie production begins. The novel is built around the six main characters involved in this production: Margot, the author of the book to be made into a movie and who wants to also write the screenplay. Margot is somewhat homesick fearing that her real life is waiting for her in Chicago and feels the movie will validate her life. Woody, the man she meets in a club who is also originally from Illinois, agrees to help write the screenplay and with whom Margot ends up having an affair. Miranda Clark, a young actress who is hired to play Margot in the film is looking for her big break from making commercials. Esther, decides to do the movie her way and hires as a director a man named Michael,who is known to be dying with cancer but is still working. Esther feels she can control him better than she could another director. Michael’s wife Beryl goes to Italy while the movie is being made and begins her own drama.
How all these characters interact with each other is most fascinating. They all have their own personal dramas going on, each grappling with some emotional issues . The reader gets the sense that the characters are all missing something in their lives and that they are searching for a resolution as they look into the past and the future. I love character driven stories like this where the point of convergence sets into motion a chain of emotional events. Little did Margot know the movie would take on a life of it’s own, not exactly as she had scripted it. Just like real life, it seems.
Hellenga’s style of writing is magical, evoking many images of Italy. It is easy to imagine the locations, sights, sounds and local people in this story. His descriptive phrases are just wonderful when dealing with the local color and flavor of the surroundings. I felt as if I were right in the scene with all the characters, no matter which person it was. The story encompasses not only the events surrounding making the movie, but very personal stories of love, loss and choices.These story elements are explored during the filming, revealing complex aspects of the characters’ personalities layer by layer. All the subplots and ancillary characters are just as wonderful as the main plot. Overall I thought it was a cohesive story line with very believable characters and excellent dialogue exchanges. Truly, a book to be savored. I really liked it and rated it 4****
A big thank you goes to Hachette Book Group for giving me the opportunity to read this book.