The Favour by Laura Vaughan.

Fortune favours the fraud…

When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.

In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.

But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…

I’m drawn to any book based in the beautiful cities of Italy, but I was also drawn by the premise of Ada’s inability to accept a change in circumstances after the death of her father means selling off the family’s ramshackle mansion in Wales. I felt that I might understand someone struggling to fit in between social circles having come from a working class family then through my 11+ ending up at a very middle class grammar school. I found it very hard to fit in, but once I did, it was just as difficult to fit back where I’d come from, forever caught between two different tribes. However, Ada was in another league altogether, totally unable to accept the life her mother had created for them. A period terrace in London and the local secondary school are not enough for her, nor is a stepfather with an ordinary, dull name like Brian. Her plan to study at Cambridge, at the same college as her father, falls through when she fluffs her second interview. It looks like she might have to accept her more humble lifestyle, but the along comes her godmother’s offer of a modern grand tour with Dilettanti Discoveries.

Now she has to find a way to fit in with the Lorcans and Annabelle’s of this world and she has a plan for that. Ada knows all the right lingo to seem like one of the group – using the phrase ‘we had to sell up’ is a distinctive one for people of a certain class. It has the scent of ‘distressed gentry’, people who have had to sell off the family pile due to death duties or renovation costs on their large country houses. She even talks about Garreg Las as the family’s smaller home, hinting of a more distinguished estate belonging to her father’s family in Ireland. One by one, as they stalk art galleries and churches, Ada tries to ingratiate herself with the group. Will they accept her story or sniff out the truth of who she is and where she belongs? These are deliciously awful people and there isn’t a single one I’d want to spend time with. They had an air of entitlement and superiority, but it was hard not to enjoy their witty, self-assured conversation. There’s a certain polish and charm that makes them alluring, but it’s all surface. Oliver seems suspicious of Ada, and Mallory has also been picked out as an outsider, being American and Jewish. However, Mallory’s attempts at friendship are shunned by Ada, who desperately wants to belong to the most fashionable set. To ingratiate herself with Lorcan, Ada reveals a secret; she has seen Lorcan’s half-sister Annabelle in a romantic clinch with one of their tutors. She agrees to keep the secret between them, to place herself at the centre of the group. Then, when a suspicious death occurs, Ada is not just at the centre of the group, she’s at the centre of a potential crime. She makes a decision to grant one of the group a favour, something you might barely notice, but it furthers Ada’s quest to belong. If one of the group owe her a favour, surely she becomes accepted forever? I didn’t even think about what it could mean going forward, but that’s how clever the book is. You are captive, watching each consequence of Ada’s decision opening up in front of you, one after another, like a set of Russian Dolls.

Meanwhile, in the background, Vaughan creates a beautiful backdrop of art, architecture and soft Italian light. I could imagine what a beautiful film this would make as these intriguing characters stroll through formal Italian gardens, along the Arno or in the twisty, labyrinthine lanes of Venice. All the reference points Vaughan touches upon – such as Ada glimpsing the same fountain where Lucy Honeychurch witnesses a passionate fight in Room With A View – were my own source of inspiration for visiting Italy. Of course the upper classes prefer the more refined Florence, whereas I’ll admit my lower class allegiance to Venice. This revered circle of friends have so many niche rules and in-jokes it’s impossible to negotiate them all, without tripping yourself up. Just like a valuable renaissance painting, being one of the elite is very difficult to fake. In these beautiful backdrops there are constant hints of fakery and disguise: the trompe l’oeil frescos of the country houses; the maze of laurel hedges; the association of Venice with carnival and disguise. Even the example of Room With A View has it’s plot of a well-to-do young girl on her own Grand Tour, trying to keep secret her love for a distinctly lower class clerk she meets at a pensione in Florence. All of this imagery and reference to facade, disguise and things not quite being as they seem adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. It’s like seeing a beautiful bowl of fruit, that at its centre, is rotten to the core. This book will make a great book club read, not only to discuss these awful characters, but to ponder on what we might have done in the same circumstances. As the years roll by, what price will Ada pay and how long can she maintain the facade she has built? This is a complex and intriguing novel, full of flawed characters, with a central character showing all the signs of a borderline personality – Ada simply doesn’t know who she is. There is a void at her centre that can only be filled by imitating and adopting the lifestyle of those around her, with possible lifelong ramifications.

Meet The Author

Laura Vaughan grew up in rural Wales and studied Art History in Italy and Classics at Bristol and Oxford. She got her first book deal aged twenty-two and went on to write eleven books for children and young adults. The Favour is her first novel for adults. She lives in
South London with her husband and two children.
For more information, please contact
Kirsty Doole
Publicity Director, Atlantic Books kirstydoole@atlantic-books.co.uk
07850 096902 @CorvusBooks | @theotherkirsty

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Published by thelotusreaders

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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