Restoration, by Olaf Olafsson
Restoration weaves together the stories of Alice- a British Ex-pat in Italy during WWII, and Kristin- a talented art student that mysteriously arrives at Alice’s country villa one afternoon. Both women are beautifuly and realistically rendered by Olafsson. Each has her own flaws yet still remains sympathetic. Remarkably, Olafsson is able to tell a very original WWII era story (quite a well-worn topic for historical ficiton)- not hurt in the least by an Icelandic main character, Kristin (Not enough Icelanders in literature, I say!).
During the time that Kristin is staying with Alice, the Tuscan villa becomes the literal front line in a WWII battle, and throughout the war those in the villa, and surrounding farms, are trapped between loyalists and resistors; German and American forces. If that weren’t enough there is also a fascinating subplot to do with a mysterious Caravaggio painting with dubious provenance.
There are also the subplots of each woman’s extramarital romantic entanglements. However, the main drawback of this book, for me, is that tales of adultery just don’t sit well with me- I’m actually quite tired of them. This is not so much from a moralist perspective, but mostly because every time it’s almost EXACTLY the same story- or at least one of the three or four tales of adultery that are constantly retold. The funny thing is, I think that art imitates life in this respect- with each novelist feeling that their story is somehow the exception, akin to a doting mistress thinking that her relationship is somehow different (and yes, he will leave is wife!).
Fortunately the affairs are only one part of the story, and the truly captivating tale that is told, is that of these two women’s capacity for survival. Both facing personal demons and family tradgedy they are forced to take action when the villa and all the people that depend on it are endangered- with thouroughly captivating and satisfying results.
Note: I received this book as a giveaway from Shelfawareness