Blog Tour Review: Lillian and the Italians

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Lilian and the Italians
David Gee

269 pages
Published April 11th 2021 by The Conrad Press

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In 1960s Venice, an English widow uncovers secrets about her wayward son. Going on to Amalfi, she will discover that there is Life – and Love – After Fifty.

Looking for her “rolling stone” son in 1960s Italy, an English widow encounters disturbing revelations and begins a dangerous romance with a charismatic Sicilian prince. 

In Venice Lillian Rutherford meets the ex-gigolo who has shared the last four years of her son’s life; his disclosures force her to confront a side of Andrew that she never suspected. Going on to Amalfi, she meets the charismatic Prince Massimo Monfalcone, whose playboy son is being held to ransom in Corsica with Andrew. Massimo distracts Lillian with his life story: his first wife was murdered in a Sicilian blood-feud; his second wife killed herself because of his infidelity. As they wait for news of their sons, a bond grows between Lillian and the Prince…

Sussex author David Gee’s new novel is, he says, a book for women who worry that their lives will “flatline” after their children – and/or their husbands – leave home. Widowed and empty-nested at fifty, Lillian Rutherford goes to Venice in 1966 to look for her “rolling stone” son Andrew. She meets the ex-gigolo who has shared the last four years of Andrew’s life; his disclosures reveal a side of her son that Lillian never knew or suspected. Going on to Amalfi, she meets the charismatic Prince Massimo Monfalcone whose playboy son has disappeared with Andrew. Massimo’s first wife was murdered in a Sicilian blood-feud with their four children; his second wife killed herself because of Massimo’s infidelity.  As they wait for news of their missing sons, a bond grows between Lillian and the Prince…

David Gee originally began writing Lillian and the Italians in the 1970s for his mother, who was dreading the approach of sixty-five. His bread-and-butter job in telecommunications took him to the Persian Gulf, and he didn’t finish the novel until the 1990s, by which time he had some women friends who were worrying about Life After Forty. He redrafted the novel with Lillian aged fifty and Prince Massimo a handsome and distinguished sixty-four. Several rewrites later, this is the version now being published.

Fate did not bring David Gee’s mother a Sicilian prince. Alzheimer’s took her down a very different road. Lillian’s girlhood and her miscarriage are taken from his mother’s life story, although she was widowed much younger than Lillian. David Gee dedicates the novel to his parents and a cherished writer friend and, he says, “to all those who nurse the dream that someday their Prince will come.”

MY REVIEW

Oh, this book. This book had so many layers.  I honestly don’t know if my simple review can do it justice. One character more interesting than the next. There is Lillian, a widow who travels to Italy to find her son who is somewhat of a free spirit. It has been some time since she has seen him, and she decides it is time for a mother son reunion.

There is a bit of mystery throughout, as her son continuously eludes her for nearly the entire tale, (not necessarily of his own doing), a Prince who Lilliam develops a very comfortable bond with and then…..Italy. Beautiful,  beautiful Italy and her Amalfi coast and her food, her drink, her coastline and her amazing history. Venice, and sailing and afternoon naps in the sun.  The loud, loving Italians, living life to the absolute fullest.

I normally do not read men authors.  And certainly not when the main character is a woman. This was written quite well, though.  Gee was able to (I think) correctly capture the spirit and attitude/behaviors of a 1960’s woman, traveling to another country in search of her son.  Her life has changed dramatically- she has lost her husband and in a way, her purpose. Her daughter is off in Hong Kong raising her own family, and Lillian seems a bit….restless. What does life have in store for her now?

As she spends more time in Italy, the friendship between Lillian and Prince Massimo is a bit convenient, but it is played out nicely.  (No spoilers here, folks.)  I want to say SO MUCH MORE about this storyline, but will simply say I liked the way it was tied up at the end.

My favorite character- by far- was Italy.  This book was the PERFECT read for me this month, as I am deep into researching the Italian side of my family tree.  The descriptiveness that Gee bestows on his readers is remarkable.  I could taste the wine, I could feel the sun toasting me to a golden brown. I could hear the water and see the beautiful sights of Venice.  If I did not want to travel to Italy before, I certainly do now!

For me, the book was a straightforward story of a mother who starts out on a journey to find her son.  What she doesn’t realize is she will find out a lot more than where he has been for the past 4 years, and will find herself along the way as well.

 

AUTHOR BIO

David Gee was born and raised in Sussex.  After attending Birmingham University he worked in telecommunications and journalism in London and the Persian Gulf. Lillian and the Italians was largely written “on location” in Venice and on the Amalfi coast. His previous novels include Shaikh-Down and The Bexhill Missile Crisis – a prequel to Lillian and the Italians. He now lives back in Sussex, on the South Downs near Brighton.  Author Website

THE BACKGROUND TO THE WRITING OF LILLIAN AND THE ITALIANS

In the summer of 1966 Lillian Rutherford, a 50-year-old widow from Hastings, goes to Italy in search of her wayward son. In Venice she meets the ex-gigolo who has shared the last four years of Andrew’s life; his disclosures reveal a side of her son that Lillian never knew or suspected. Going on to Amalfi, she meets the charismatic Prince Massimo Monfalcone whose playboy son has disappeared with Andrew. Massimo’s first wife was murdered in a Sicilian blood-feud with their four children; his second wife killed herself. As they wait for news of their missing sons, a bond grows between Lillian and the Prince …

Lillian’s story begins in the 1970s, when my mother was not looking forward to turning sixty-five. I promised her I would write a novel in which a middle-aged widow finds Romance and Adventure in Italy (Mum loved Italy). In 1975 I made the first of several trips to Venice. The early chapters were written on church steps and in cafes. By the following summer I had found the clifftop castle in Amalfi where Lillian meets her handsome, dangerous prince.

But that year (1976) my bread-and-butter job in telecoms took me to the Persian Gulf. The concrete and sand-dunes of Bahrain and Qatar did not evoke Amalfi and Sicily, so the novel stalled as I took up a parallel “moonlighting” career in journalism for regional English newspapers. Not until 1992, after revisiting Amalfi and climbing Mont Ste Victoire in Provence (scene of the story’s climax), did I complete the first draft of Lillian and the Italians and send the book out to seek its fortune. One leading literary agent said the novel was “blessedly different”, but a middle-aged heroine would put publishers off. Hopefully, books and movies in the last two or three decades have demonstrated that older women are no longer excluded from romance and intrigue. By now I had women friends in their forties who worried that their lives would ‘flatline’ after their children (and/or their husbands) left home. I rewrote the novel with Lillian aged fifty and Prince Massimo sixty-four. This, several revisions later, is the book emerging into print (and e-format) this year from The Conrad Press in Canterbury.

Fate did not bring my dear old ma a Sicilian prince. Alzheimer’s took her down a very different road. Lillian’s girlhood and her miscarriage are taken from my mother’s life story, although she was widowed much younger than Lillian. The novel represents the life I wished for her in place of the life she had, although – God bless her – there were many things that brought her happiness into and beyond middle age.

Lillian and the Italians is dedicated to my parents and a cherished writer friend – and to all those who nurse the dream that one day their Prince will come.

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