One Italian Summer was recommended to me by my cousin, another very bookish person, a few months ago. It sounded like a beautiful story, so I made sure to order it soon after. (Hi, Cindy!)
This novel is about the relationship between mother and daughter. It’s also about finding yourself as an individual and defining yourself separate from your relationships with others. Our protagonist is Katy, a young woman of thirty who has just lost her mother, Carol. She is lost in the weeks after her mother’s death since so much of her identity was wrapped up in her mother. I felt concerned at the beginning of the novel because Katy was identifying herself as n extension of her mother and wasn’t seeing herself as a separate person. Katy is defined by the people around her and when her main person leaves her, she’s lost a major piece of her own identity. Feeling displaced in her life, Katy decides to take the mother-daughter trip she had planned to Positano, Italy alone.
I kept myself from reading the synopsis of One Italian Summer. I wanted to read it completely on the recommendation of my cousin without a sense of what I was getting into. I so rarely do that—normally I break down and read the synopsis right before I start reading the novel. So, I had no idea what I was in for.
The amount of pure emotion in this novel was overwhelming. I’ve never experienced grief like losing a family member, much less a mother. So, even though I can’t speak for the accuracy of that grief, I could vividly feel what Katy was feeling. It felt suffocating. Serle does a wonderful job of showing Katy slowly becoming someone else as she acclimatizes to the Italian coast city of Positano, where her mother spent the summer before Katy was born.
I loved the descriptions of the city itself. Serle brings Positano to life through its hundreds of stairs, ancient architecture, and stunning food, with each meal more soul-filling than the last. Katy finds herself always drinking wine and eating amazing food, yet still always ready to eat more. The city is brought to life in such a breath-taking way that even someone like me, who’s never been off the North American continent, can picture the beauty and pace of a city across the world.
The plot itself was easy to follow and I read the novel in a single sitting. Its 245 pages make it perfect to bring to the beach this summer or to curl up with on a rainy summer evening. It wasn’t complex, but it was exciting. As it says in the synopsis (now that I’ve checked), Katy begins seeing her mother around her in Positano. First as a spirit and then in the flesh, whisking her off on all the adventures that Carol had talked about taking her on during this trip. After the intense emotional state that Katy was in at the beginning of the novel, it warmed my heart to see her getting to spend time with the younger version of her mother. It’s an opportunity that none of us get to have.
I highly recommend reading One Italian Summer. It gives insight into what it means to be a daughter and grow apart from your mother. It’s an important bond, but one that’s meant to be stretched and tested as the daughter grows older. You only ever know your mother as a mother, when her identity is so much more than that. And as a daughter, so is yours.
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