Beautiful Chiara is the last of the Ridolfi, a Florentine family of long lineage and eccentric habits. She is smitten with Salvatore, a brilliant but penniless doctor, a rational man who wants nothing to do with romance. This is the story of how these two--with the best intentions, the kindest of instincts, and the most meddlesome of friends--make each other wonderfully miserable inside.
So there were moments, but not enough.
Fitzgerald’s prose here is both delicate, almost fastidious, and gaudy. The humour, when it arrives (and it comes often and in droves) is beyond farcical. Yet there is such a sweetness about Chiara, the disturbed Salvatore, and Chiara’s blundering English friend, Barney, that you can’t help falling in love with all of them. The fact that the novel doesn’t really go anywhere makes it hardly any different than life itself. And Fitzgerald clearly sees both the muddle and the majesty of life.
The wandering style and the Italian families might be confusing at first, but this is a novel with as much evidence of Penelope Fitzgerald’s mastery as any in her oeuvre. Recommended, as ever.
Chiara’s school friend, the formidable Barney (Lavinia Barnes) comes to help. Complicating rather than helping are Chiara’s gentle, retiring father, Count Giancarlo Ridolfi, his sister Maddalena, and his nephew Cesare, who runs the farm. Chiara and Salvatore marry, but his bristliness and Chiara’s direct, unswerving honesty make for continued friction, which becomes public in a funny scene at a villa party given by a family friend, Professor Pulci. One of Fitzgerald’s themes is the irrational manner in which those who love each other can get into and sustain arguments. Another is the notion of children recognizing that in a particular situation they are older than their parents. Something she repeats here is the way deception becomes easier with practice. And as always, we wonder how she knows so much about Italian farming, Gramsci, and various other arcane matters.