Lillian and the Italians begins as the story of a middle-aged and recently widowed Englishwoman’s quest to find her son, Andrew. It’s the 1960s and people heard of the latter in Venice last. Lillian takes the train to the city to find him, only to discover that he has vanished.
During the course of the book, however, Mafia vendettas and Vatican politics intrude. Lillian’s rather prosaic life is overtaken by more visceral concerns. The settings – Venice and the Amalfi coast of the sixties – were inspired. However, I didn’t feel that the book made the most of them.
At the outset, let me warn any potential readers that the author doesn’t use traditional chapters to divide up his work. He relies instead on place or date headings. Or both. I’ve no problem with that, of course but I do have trouble with excessively long segments. The Amalfi “chapter”, for example lasts for nearly 100 pages which is just too long.
There’s no denying either that Mr Gee is a good writer but that doesn’t mean he didn’t need the services of an editor. Where Lillian and Massimo’s relationship is concerned, for example, the prose is too “Mills and Boon”. Also his descriptions of Venice are mere tourist-guide sketches and lack the immediacy of personal remembrances.
The main character, Lillian, is believable and well-drawn, but this isn’t the case for some of the others. With Prince Massimo, for example, the other main character, I couldn’t work out whether he was a caricature of a romantic Italian or that of a Sicilian mafioso: either way I didn’t buy it that his or Lillian’s charms were sufficient to spark any latent passions.
In my humble opinion, the book would have benefitted from being a hundred pages shorter. However, the story is a good one and one can imagine it being an interesting TV series where the “Godfather” themes, settings and Lillian herself would provide more than enough material to ensure its success.