Cleverly written as a sequel, yet a fine stand-alone novel, THE ITALIAN LOVER covers the making of a movie about THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES, in which Robert Hellenga first introduced us to Margot Harrington. Back then, she was a young American woman who traveled to Florence after the devastating flood of 1966, eager to do anything she could to help save some of the world’s irreplaceable treasures. In the midst of a crisis in the art world, faced with the almost certain loss of innumerable ancient masterpieces, Margot’s skills were not only desperately needed but welcomed. While working to restore paintings and documents, she made a stunning discovery.
As THE ITALIAN LOVER opens, Margot has set up a studio overlooking the Arno River. More than two decades have passed since she first arrived in Florence. She is quite content with her work and her life in general. But a guy named Woody is about to change that.
Brought together by a restlessness neither of them knew they had --- and an incident with a dog --- Woody and Margot grow from acquaintances to friends to lovers. Woody has been homesick lately, and, while Margot certainly eases his longing for the States, he is feeling the tug of the small town he left long ago. For Margot, it is an especially thrilling time. Not only is she involved with a man she enjoys more than any she has met in years, a well-known producer, Esther Klein, has purchased the movie rights to Margot’s book. Excited and more than a little bit flattered, Margot launches herself into the project wholeheartedly, as she does with every endeavor in her life. She and Woody work together to create a screenplay, envisioning a variety of stars in the leading roles and picturing the scenes as Margot lived them.
But authors envision things differently from producers and directors. Esther Klein has a vision very unlike Margot’s. When the entire cast and crew come to Florence, a few sparks fly --- and naturally a few sparks are ignited between the players. It is not hard to imagine how, in such a romantic city in this very beautiful part of Italy, love could happen.
When the Easter break rolls around, they must give up their hotel rooms for guests with prior reservations. The time is well spent, traveling to the countryside, the wine towns, the hill towns and the big towns, exploring and reliving experiences from another time. Each of them takes the reader along for a short but delicious escape into Italy. They eat well, drink fine wine and generally have a grand old time.
Of course, there’s plenty of friction too. Husbands and wives have different agendas. New lovers learn some secrets they didn’t need to know. Besides Margot's frustration with the screenplay, Margot and Woody have difficult decisions. And Woody has a huge problem with the dog’s legal owner. But that’s another story altogether.
THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES was such a memorable read that it seemed impossible to follow it up with much success, but Robert Hellenga has managed to bring us another great chapter in the life of Margot Harrington. And now that the movie has come out --- at least in the book --- where will he go from here?
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011
The Italian Lover