Book review: The Italian Girl by Lucinda Riley

The Italian Girl by Lucinda Riley
The Italian Girl by Lucinda Riley
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Fancy a night – well, several nights – at the opera this summer?

Look no further than Lucinda Riley’s passion-filled blockbuster which takes us on a dramatic journey from the bustling back streets of Naples to the glittering stages of the world’s most famous opera houses.

The Italian Girl was originally written and published as Aria in 1996 under Riley’s former pen name Lucinda Edmonds but has been extensively rewritten and updated for a new audience.

It’s a torrid tale of love, ambition and betrayal set against the kind of opulent and seductively jewelled backdrops that we have come to expect from the popular and much-loved author of best-sellers like Hothouse Flower, The Light Behind the Window and The Midnight Rose.

Riley really turns up the heat as she whisks us away to beautiful, beguiling Italy where the obsessive love and extraordinary talents shared by two opera singers will have a lasting effect on the lives and fortunes of all those closest to them.

Rosanna Menici’s story opens in 1966 in Naples, the busy, noisy, overcrowded city where she was born and where people share their joy and sadness, and laugh, cry… and sing.

From poor beginnings, her hard-working parents, with the help of Rosanna’s brother Luca, have built up their pizza café into one of the most famous in the Piedigrotta quarter of the city.

Eleven-year-old Rosanna is the youngest in the family and has always felt overshadowed by her older sister Carlotta, an attractive 16-year-old who attracts men like flies.

At a neighbourhood party, Rosanna meets Roberto Rossini, a local boy who is now an operatic student at La Scala in Milan, a man of great physical beauty with a voice to match. It’s love at first sight, particularly when Roberto hears Rosanna sing and tells her that her voice too is ‘a gift from God.’

Rosanna’s life changes overnight. With singing lessons secretly paid for by Luca, she, eventually wins a scholarship to a school of music in Milan and heads north with Luca as her guardian.

In the years to come, the destinies of Rosanna and Roberto will be bound together by both their operatic excellence and by their enduring love for each other but, as Rosanna slowly discovers, their union is haunted by powerful secrets from the past…

Riley steers us through thirty years of Latin-style histrionics and heartbreak with her usual style and panache, perfectly offsetting the high-profile passion between Rosanna and Roberto against the conflicts and dilemmas of her loyal and loving brother Luca.

Fast-paced, bathed in the sunlight of Italy and the bright lights of celebrity, and dripping in glamour, intrigue and romance, The Italian Girl is the perfect summer read.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)