Editorial note: I received a copy of One Italian Summer in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle is an impactful and moving story about the everlasting bond between a mother and daughter.
Magical realism is a growing area of fiction. This is where a story has some fantastical or even sci-fi element—the key is an element. So you never feel like you’re reading a fantasy or sci-fi novel but it’s simply a contemporary story with an added twist.
Some recent examples include The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (one of my favorites of the past couple of years) and recent novels by Rebecca Serle (The Dinner List and In Five Years). What’s interesting about this story choice in novels is that it truly does make you think about your own decisions in life. The ‘what if’ can be a present question and magical realism seeks to provide a look into what would happen if a different decision was made.
I’ve been looking forward to Rebecca’s last novel, An Italian Summer (and also included it in on my huge must-read book club books for 2022 list) for months. I’ve had the ARC for a long while but I didn’t want to rush it through quickly—I knew this would be one I wanted to wait to read it at the right time.
And it was so great. The setting in Amalfi Coast—you can’t beat that. The story is engaging, intriguing, even sad at parts, but also uplifting at the same time.
What’s the Story About
Katy’s mother has passed away and she is devastated and absolutely lost. Her mother, Carol, was her best friend and a guiding light in her life—she didn’t make any decision without consulting her first. But now she is gone and Katy doesn’t know what to do and her marriage is also suffering as a result.
All her life she heard how special Positano and the Amalfi Coast were to her mother. They had planned to take a trip together before she passed away.
Katy decides to go ahead with the trip to Positano—marking the first time she’s every taken a trip alone or really done anything on her own. And she’s immediately in awe of the town’s breathtaking scenery, fantastic food and abundance of wine. She even feels herself starting to relax a bit, finally.
And suddenly, she runs into her mother as thirty-year-old Carol. Katy can’t believe her eyes but is also grateful for any more time she can get with her mom. Katy is also curious of the woman Carol was prior to becoming her mother.
But as Katy gets to know Carol more, she realizes that she’s holding back a secret and it might change everything forever.
Can you imagine running into your parents, let alone one who is deceased, when they are thirty and their whole life is ahead of them? I love the concept. It would seem like a gift, that’s for sure.
Sometimes in these magical realism stories, it takes a while for the character to be on board with what’s happening. You usually have another character trying to explain the situation and such. So it can take up a bit of real estate when you’re trying to move forward with the story as a reader.
What I would like with One Italian Summer, is that the author went right for it. Katy is confused when she meets Carol. But her happiness at seeing her mother again, even if it’s a version she never knew, overwhelms any confusion that she has. I thought it was quite clever how it was presented.
Katy calls her mother the love of her life. Their bond was so close—they did everything together. So when Carol is gone—where does that leave Katy?
She’s unsure if she wants to remain married and doesn’t know if she’ll return to her job. All she knows is she’s hurting in ways that she could never imagine.
Fast forward to Positano and Katy is loving getting to know the younger version of her mother. She’s learning quite a bit about her too. It also makes her realize how much she never did ask her mother about her own life as the focus was always on Katy.
But everyone has secrets. And to be honest, Carol’s was pretty unexpected. For a story that already had plenty of depth, I thought it added such an interesting layer and one that book clubs will no doubt discuss.
This is one of my favorite settings ever. I was so thrilled when I first read that this novel would take place in Positano. My husband and I took a big trip out to Italy in 2019 and we went out to Positano and absolutely loved it. If you haven’t been, it really is everything you want and more—picturesque Italian town, gorgeous views of the ocean, fresh, simple and amazing food. I could go on and on. I think it’s one of the most special places in the world.
It totally lends itself to represent a place where magic could happen. Rebecca Serle painted a beautiful image of a special town and you feel like you’re there right with Katy. The novel is truly transporting.
But there’s also more than meets the eye with the setting. And it’s an interesting twist.
As you can tell, I thought this story was great. This is the ideal novel for those who love stories about mothers and daughters. Plus, the setting is top notch.
For book clubs, check out the discussion questions here.