This is a beautifully observed ‘roses and thorns’ love story. A bond forged between two children in Bologna cuts across the class divide, defying obstacles and expectations to become a great romance. Over half a century, the lovers are faced with long separations, family manipulation and tragedy – and yet, even as they pursue their own paths, they can’t escape each other’s orbit. Bonvicini’s lovers are complex, convincing and unsentimental; and their story is nuanced and intelligently told.
It all begins with an innocent kiss between two five-year-olds. As they grow into young adults this relationship intensifies, there are platonic phases, fallings-out and reunions, before a more sophisticated and mature love emerges. But doubt hangs in the air as to whether the lovers can eventually be together.
Valerio is the son of an atheist communist gardener and a housekeeper, while Olivia is the granddaughter of a wealthy Bologna construction magnate. At the age of five Olivia Morganti and Valerio Carnevale are driven to their public school in an armoured bulletproof car by Olivia’s grandfather, Gianni, who carries a Baretta in the glove compartment. Do the wealthy family see Valerio as a playmate for Olivia, or simply as a shield? Kidnap is a daily risk, and both Gianni and Olivia are potential targets.
When, a few years later, Valerio’s mother falls for a loan shark in Rome, Valerio is separated from Olivia and his father. But the children write to each other, and Valerio holidays with the Morganti family each year. Olivia and Valerio reconnect properly as adults and become lovers. He moves back to Bologna to study and she later comes to live in Rome. They drift apart, marry other partners, and their personal fortunes and priorities change. Can this relationship born out of the blurring of class boundaries survive? The premise is simple, but Bonvicini is inventive, and with such authentic voices as these, the relationship rings true.
The lovers are also impacted by the dark pervading mood of the times, making the novel a perceptive exploration of a riven society. Itopens during Italy’s ‘years of lead’, a brutal period in which communists, neo-Nazis, mafia and the security services took their fight to the streets, with many innocents suffering as a result. It ends during the slow death of Berlusconi’s era of corruption. However, very little is resolved in the political arena and this casts a pall over every facet of the lovers’ intriguing relationship.
Elena Ferrante’s success has increased our appetite for rich family drama from Italy, and Anna Maria Ortese’s for politically aware fiction. Bonvicini has elements of both in her wry and engrossing storytelling. Despite the darkness this is a joy to read.
Reviewed by Paul Burke
THE YEAR OF OUR LOVE
by Caterina Bonvicini
translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar
published by Other Press (2021)
Paul Burke writes The Verdict column for nbmagazine.co.uk, interviews, articles and features for crimefictionlover.com, crimetime.co.uk and presents for Crime Time TV&FM podcast. Paul is a book collector, lover of literature in translation and a crime fiction aficionado.
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of ABOVE THE RAIN by Víctor del Árbola
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of MY BROTHER THE MESSIAH by Martin Vopenka
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of MY BROTHER by Karin Smirnoff
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of KOKOSCHKA’S DOLL by Afonso Cruz
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of THE LAST LIBERTINES by Benedetta Craveri
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of VERNON SUBUTEX III by Virginie Despentes
Read Paul Burke’s #Riveting Review of ELLY by Maike Wetzel