My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
The Rome Affair is an absolutely perfect Summer read. Set in two different time periods, it’s addictive and engaging with a lot of mystery and just the right amount of romance to make it impossible to put down.
Swan’s descriptions will transport you to the Eternal City and some of the most glamorous locations around the world. Definitely one I’d recommend.
The glamorous capital city of Italy is brought to startling life in The Rome Affair, a compelling summer novel by Karen Swan.
1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can’t change it.
2017 and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza – famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.
Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life.
I was a little bit worried when I started reading the Rome Affair that it was simply going to be a rehash of the authors previous book The Paris Secret. From the synopsis it sounds very similar, young woman running away from trouble in her own life goes to stay in a European city and ends up investigating a mystery from the past, and I suppose it kind of is. Despite some similarities however, this is a very different book and for me it was even better.
It has Swan’s usual wonderful writing but there is something compelling and addictive about the story. I picked the book up late one Saturday night and found it impossible to put down, finishing it on Sunday afternoon. The descriptions and feel of the book drew me in so completely that it was actually a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the real world.
The narrative flips back and forth in time and is told from Cesca’s point of view in the present and Elena’s in the past and while I found both fascinating I have to confess it was Elena’s story that captivated me. Her life as a rich heiress, socializing with the rich and famous while struggling to fit in and ultimately being abandoned time after time is compelling reading. The contrast between experiencing it through her eyes and hearing her tell Cesca the story works incredibly well. She edits and spins her experiences to paint the picture she wants to show the world and it definitely makes you question whether her final perfect romance was all it seemed.
Cesca’s story in the present is slightly less intriguing, she’s hiding from something that happened in London and trying to enjoy the simple things in life in Rome, with mixed success. There’s a little bit of romance in the air and she has to admit to and face up to her past but her role seemed to be primarily to dig into Elena’s past. I didn’t think she was necessarily the most likeable of characters but she was perfect for the role of interrogator/investigator and her love of her new home really flows through the pages.
The setting of Rome was definitely one of the highlights for me as, while I’ve only visited once, I absolutely love it. The author’s descriptions are so wonderful they give a real sense of the city as well as the other settings in the novel (Greece, Florida, New York). It’s very easy to imagine yourself getting a pizza and eating outside on the piazza, visiting the tunnels running under the city, visiting a nightclub in New York or sunbathing on a yacht off a Greek Island.
The pacing of the story is spot on and there are plenty of twists and turns to grab your attention. I spent a lot of the book guessing what had happened and while you can see most of it coming there were still a few surprises that I doubt many will guess.
Overall, I would definitely rate this as one of my favorite reads of the Summer. With an addictive story, a wonderful setting and brilliant writing I would recommend this to anyone who likes a novel with a lot of secrets and a bit of romance.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.