Puglia, 1921. Leandro Cardetta, born into poverty, emigrated to America to make his fortune and has returned home to southern Italy a rich man, accompanied by his glamorous wife, Marcie, an ex-showgirl fighting middle age. Now Leandro has money enough to hire renowned English architect, Boyd Kinsgley, to renovate a crumbling palazzo into an Art Deco statement of wealth, and host Boyd’s teenage son and his diffident young second wife, Clare, for one extraordinary summer.
Under the burning sky, beyond the luxury of Leandro’s home, tensions are high. Veterans of the Great War are desperate for work and food. Among these is Ettore, Leandro’s nephew. Gripped by grief at the loss of his fiance, Ettore has sworn to identify Livia’s killer, and take his revenge. He is too proud to go to his uncle for charity, but when he injures himself one day, he has no choice but to knock on Leandro’s door. Meeting Clare there will change everything – and in the most violent way.
During the fierce summer of 1921, all these lives converge. Exactly how did Leandro grow rich in America, and what is the strange hold he has over Boyd? What happened to the first Mrs Kingsley, and what secret haunts the outwardly exuberant Marcie Cardetta? Hearts will be broken, blood will be spilt and the hardest of life’s lessons will be learnt as shadows fall.
The Night Falling, to be published by Orion in hardcover and for Kindle on 20 November, is the latest wonderful read from one of my favourite authors, Katherine Webb. Two of her books featured in my Top Ten from 2012 – The Unseen and A Half Forgotten Song – and I was equally blown away by her 2013 release The Misbegotten (that’s a link to my earlier review). The Night Falling is a very, very different book – but I found it absolutely enthralling, and a guaranteed contender for one of my reads of the year.
The synopsis above might tell you the story, but what it can’t convey is its raw emotional impact: this is a book that takes your breath away. The passionate love story is set against the starkest of settings – the most dreadful poverty, where men who fought in the Great War for their country line up in the town square every morning to earn barely enough to keep their families from starving for one more day. And the work they do – bent in the fields all day, breaking rocks and pulling weeds, threshing by hand, driven by overseers capable of appalling cruelty. The descriptions are quite superb – of the relentless heat, the unexpected beauty of fossilised shells found in the rocks, the barely suppressed violence of the rise of the fascists, the dreadful conditions in which they live. And set against this we have the opulent luxury of Leandro’s farm and home – everything designed to show how he “made good” in his time in America – and his ageing beauty pageant wife Marcie. Into this setting come the architect Boyd – an excellent portrait of emotional instability – with his young wife Clare and his teenage son. The mystery around the hold Leandro has over Boyd is superbly handled – Leandro himself is a complex character, beautifully captured. But the part of the book that will stay with me the longest is the magnificent love story at its heart – perfectly judged, and written in a way that will break the hardest of hearts.
I can’t praise this book highly enough – the sheer emotional power of the writing left me reeling. Everyone should buy, beg, steal or borrow a copy – you won’t regret it. My thanks to netgalley and publishers Orion for my advance reading e-copy.
Katherine Webb was born in 1977 and grew up in Hampshire before reading History at Durham University. She has since spent time living in London and Venice, and now lives near Bath. Having worked as a waitress, au pair, personal assistant, bookbinder, housemaid, library assistant and seller of fairy costumes, she is now a full-time writer. Her debut novel, The Legacy, won the popular vote for the TV Book Club Summer Read 2010 and was shortlisted for Best New Writer at the 2010 Galaxy National Book Awards. Her subsequent novelsThe Unseen and A Half Forgotten Song were both Sunday Times Top Ten Bestsellers, and her books have been translated into 23 languages around the world.