Author: Rebecca Serle
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: Mar. 2022 (read Mar. 2022)
This book was a bit of a bummer for me. I’ve seen some really excellent (and some not so excellent) reviews, so I was a bit on the fence, but impulsively decided to give it a go. The book did improve throughout, but I knew almost as soon as I started reading it that I wasn’t going to love it.
One Italian Summer tells the story of 30 year old Katy Silver, who has just lost her mother to cancer and has in turn, lost a piece of herself. Her Mom was her best friend and she doesn’t know how to move on without her. The two women were supposed to take a trip to Positano, Italy together, a place that was special to her mother Carol, but unfortunately she passes away before the trip and Katy decides to go to Italy alone to try and heal her broken heart. However, while in Positano, something magical happens and the 30 year old version of Carol stumbles into Katy’s holiday, bringing truths to light that Katy never realized about her mother.
It’s a book about love and grief, so I was ready for an emotional and moving read, but sadly, the writing style just didn’t work for me. I don’t want to totally slam on the book because I can see how some people might love this, Serle definitely crafts a very vivid portrayal of Italy in her writing, but the style was so straight forward and matter of fact that I was left feeling like I was reading a dull travel diary rather than the emotional, grief-stricken self discovery story that I was hoping for.
To put it simply, the writing is boring. Everything about this was a classic example of telling instead of showing. It’s overwritten and I thought we got so many details that were just unnecessary. If you’re looking for a good detailed itinerary of what to do in Positano, this is great, but I wanted to go on an emotional journey with Katy and that just wasn’t happening. I found it extremely hard to relate with Katy and the whole narrative was a bit insufferable. Everything about Positano is incredibly beautiful, from the scenery, to the sunsets, to the food, to the luxury hotels – so it’s hard to empathize with a bunch of faux-sad white people living a dream holiday. We’re told about Katy’s grief, but we don’t really experience it.
It also comes down to Katy being a pretty unlikeable character. There’s nothing wrong with a good unlikeable character, but Katy is not intentionally unlikeable. I believe we’re supposed to like and empathize with her, but it’s very hard because she seems totally unaware of her privilege and it’s hard to buy that a 30-year old woman would be this out of touch with reality. One of the key themes is centered around how Katy and Carol are best friends and Katy’s discovery that, surprise, her mother actually had a life before and outside of her. She’s shocked by this 30 year old version of her mother and spends so much time in awe of the ways in which her mother is both the same and different. I’m sorry, but what 30 year old woman is unable to imagine that their mother might have had a vibrant life before them? Plus I thought the whole my-mom-is-my-best-friend thing was a little tired.
A lot of women love their moms and would consider them a best friend. But come on, mother-daughter friendships are still going to be based on a totally different foundation than peer-to-peer friendships and I would it extremely unrelatable that Katy didn’t have ANY friends outside of her Mom and husband. She mentions one girlfriend in passing, but as far as I can tell, she has no other friends, so that’s probably why she’s so shocked to find out that her mother actually had a life before her. So mostly Katy just read as juvenile and bit dense to me.
The one thing I did like about this book though was the exploration of the erasure of women through motherhood. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as more and more of my girlfriends have children. I’ve been noticing that some of my friends almost seem to disappear into motherhood. They’re still them, but all of their passions and interests have become secondary to that of being a mother. Their children become their number one priority and personality. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, I just personally find it very scary because I have a lot of things that I’m passionate about and the idea of losing or having to give up those things in motherhood is one of the primary reasons I delay it. Some people are able to find a good balance between being a mom and being a woman with your own dreams, but it seems it’s easy for who are before being a mother to get lost in the chaos of parenthood.
What Katy is grappling with more than anything is the loss of who she thought she was and the fear of having to suddenly be her own person. Her mom was a comfort to her because then she never had to think too hard and her suddenly realizing that her mother had her own hopes and dreams is scary for her. The realization that our parents can want things for themselves beyond the hopes and dreams they have for us. I don’t fault children for this, but it’s hard to watch a grown woman suddenly figuring this out.
The other issue I had with this book was with the romance. I won’t get into it to avoid spoilers, but I thought it was an interesting choice to give a married woman a love interest. We’re told Katy and her mother are best friends, but we’re not shown it. Likewise, we’re told at the beginning of the novel that things aren’t really working out between Katy and her husband, but we’re not told why and we’re definitely not shown it either. We’re just told that she’s so depressed over the loss of her mother that she has no interest in any of her other relationships, which is really only her marriage because she has no other friends.
Anyways, the only other thing I’ll say is that the book has a bit of a twist, which I thought was well done. I really should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, none of the positives were really enough to outweigh the negatives and I wouldn’t recommend this book. But if you like it and Rebecca Serle’s writing, then all the more power to you! It did have some very evocative descriptions of Italy, but the writing style along with Katy’s immaturity make it a pass from me.