When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mum, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, the mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: two weeks in Positano, the magical town where Carol spent the summer before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.
But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliffsides, delightful residents, and – of course – delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.
And then Carol appears, healthy and sun-tanned… and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how – all she can focus on is that somehow, impossibly, she has her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman who came before.
But can we ever truly know our parents? Soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.
I enjoyed Rebecca Serle’s last novel rather unexpectedly, as it became so much more than the simple romance I was expecting. Her new novel One Italian Summer also had some unexpected elements and was an interesting look at the relationships between mothers and daughters, the endurance of long term relationships and coping with grief. As the book opens Katy is married to Eric and has just lost her Mum to cancer. Katy is broken as her Mum has been her best friend, her shopping buddy, her sounding board, her arbiter of taste and so many other things and now she doesn’t know what to do without her. In a strange way she sees her mother as her partner in life, rather than her husband. Eric is also grieving, having been a part of Katy’s family since they were at college. However, when her mother started receiving end of life care, Katy went to live at her parent’s home sleeping on a sofa to keep her mother company while her father slept in a chair next to his wife. As the couple meet again at her mother’s funeral, Katy still feels unsure about their marriage. She wonders if her mother was right and they married far too soon. Katy needs some space, to grieve her mum and think about her marriage and an obvious opportunity presents itself. When her mother was younger she spent a summer living on the Amalfi coast at the picturesque town of Positano renovating a hotel. To surprise her mother Katy had bought them tickets to spend a week in there and the thought comes into her head. What if she went ahead and travelled to Italy by herself?
Katy finds herself in a beautiful hotel where she feels immediately embraced by the family who run it. She meets a man at breakfast called Adam who works for the large luxury hotel chain. He would love to acquire the hotel and his bosses would like a piece of this beautiful coastline for their portfolio. He charms Katy and offers to show her around a little, he has been coming to Positano for many years in his time off and can suggest some great places to eat and explore. Katy has felt totally cut off from her mother, but here she feels closer to her as if part of her mother’s spirit has always been here waiting for her. One morning as she wanders through reception she sees a woman who has brought a parcel to put into the hotel’s outgoing post. She looks strangely familiar and as she turns around Katy can’t believe her eyes. This is her mother Carol, full of life and only thirty years old. I loved the way the author creates this strange time loop in such a magical setting. I never once questioned it, because I was so involved with Katy’s feelings that she might just turn the corner and see her mum as if she’d never left. It was such an interesting chance for her to meet her mother as a young woman and understand more about her. This Carol is young, carefree and full of passion for her goal of becoming an interior designer. There’s so much that Katy wants to know, but is this going to change her view of her mother and their relationship?
I loved the Italian setting of this novel, having just read Adriana Trigiani’s new novel also set on the Tyherrenian Sea I am now dying to visit this beautiful coastline. The way the town is nestled into the cliff side and every balcony makes you feel you’re hanging over the sea. I could literally feel the sunshine and the warm sea on my skin. The descriptions of food had my mouth watering and I found myself longing for Italy. Meeting her Mum at this age was always going to throw up things Katy didn’t know. Carol doesn’t recognise her, so her actions are completely unguarded, whereas Katy has the knowledge of who Carol is. I wondered how long she would be able to keep it to herself. It was interesting to see Katy starting to question whether all aspects of their relationship were positive. Carol has always been so opinionated and matter of fact about how things should be done. As a couple, Katy and Eric have always gone to her for advice when making decisions and she is the family’s anchor, keeping them grounded and safe. However, was this safety always a positive thing? Katy starts to see that she’s never been left to make her own decisions, that she and Eric have rarely made their own choices as a couple. Carol has always weighed in on everything from what clothes to buy and whether they should have children yet. She always seemed so sure of what to do and Katy has felt inadequate to an extent, unable to weigh up the options and make her own mistakes. There is a bit of anger and resentment here; if she’s never been allowed to stand on her own two feet, no wonder Katy feels lost. As her mother’s story unfolds, will Katy get the answers she’s looking for? Why does this Carol seem so ‘go with the flow’ when her mum always planned everything, even a family picnic, with military precision?
This was another beautiful book from Rebecca Searle, concentrating on the relationships between women and perhaps the most complex female relationship we have. This shows beautifully the effect our parents have on our development as people and how one mistake can change the way someone approaches life forever. All set in the beautiful Italian sun, with a lot of personal reflection and even a little bit of romance thrown in. I loved how the space and the experience gives Katy a chance to re-evaluate her life and the way she’s been living it. This is the perfect summer getaway book and if you’re not going anywhere this year I definitely recommend it for vicariously enjoying Italy.
Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives in New York and Los Angeles. Serle developed the hit TV adaptation of her YA series Famous in Love, and is also the author of The Dinner List, and YA novels The Edge of Falling and When You Were Mine. She received her MFA from the New School in NYC. Find out more at RebeccaSerle.com.