Book Review: Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan #BookReview

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In the Eternal City, no secret stays hidden forever…

Lottie Archer arrives in Rome excited to begin her new job as an archivist. When she discovers a valuable fifteenth-century painting, she is drawn to find out more about the woman who left it behind, Nina Lawrence.

Nina seems to have led a rewarding and useful life, restoring Italian gardens to their full glory following the destruction of World War Two. So why did no one attend her funeral in 1978?

In exploring Nina’s past, Lottie unravels a tragic love story beset by the political turmoil of post-war Italy. And as she edges closer to understanding Nina, she begins to confront the losses in her own life.

I am delighted to be posting my review of Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan today. I received an advance digital copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review, and I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am all about novels set in Italy at the moment. For some reason, it is a place I am craving a visit to in these times where it is practically impossible to go anywhere at all. So since I can’t hop on a plane there at the moment, I am taking my tours via books, and Two Women in Rome is my latest foray.

A lot of my armchair travelling is done via romcoms, but this is a much more serious book, with a dual timeline that centres on Lottie in the present day and Nina, back in the 1970s when Italy was going through a period of immense political upheaval. Lottie, an archivist, discovers a lost painting, and a cache of papers that tell part of Nina’s story. Lottie becomes almost obsessed with uncovering what happened to Nina, largely because she can relate to her in some way, her struggle to fit in to Roman society as an English woman, and for authenticity when there are parts of your life which cannot be revealed for a variety of reasons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although it was a rather slow burn. The switching between Lottie’s current life in Rome and Nina’s time there in 1970s was easy to follow, and the women have two distinct voices in the book which each spoke to me with equal strength. I found the historical exploration of Italy in these tumultuous years absolutely fascinating. It is not a period of Italian history I am familiar with at all, and it made me want to go and read more about it, always a sign that a book has caught my imagination. I found the things that Nina is forced to do to carry out her work quite shocking, again not something I have ever thought much about before but intrigued me a great deal. I am sure that the author has researched the topic thoroughly and that what she describes is authentic, which makes it even more unbelievable.

Lottie latches on to Nina’s story as a way to explore her insecurities as an alien in a foreign land, especially when she is married to a man who has lived there so long that he is part of the place, and has a long history with the people and the city, part of which makes Lottie feels threatened. She also has parts of her past missing, which she hasn’t really processed, and investigating Nina’s story is a way of working through all this, and finding something in Rome that is hers, anchoring her to the place and marking herself out as an individual, instead of an appendage to her husband. I could really understand where she was coming from, her story really resonated with me and I was invested throughout in her quest.

This is a thoughtful, considered and rich novel that explores a time and place that will be alien to most of us. It takes the reader beyond the superficial tourist experience of Rome and in to the darker, seedier underbelly of the city and part of its history. It gave me a view of the place from a new perspective, as well as pulling me in to an involved mystery that was fascinating. Speckle all that with complex romantic issues, and you have me thoroughly hooked.

An engaging and rewarding read that provides something for anyone looking for a book with a little more depth to take to their sun lounger this summer.

Two Women in Rome is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Elizabeth Buchan was a fiction editor at Random House before leaving to write full time. Her novels include the prizewinning Consider the Lily, international bestseller Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and The New Mrs Clifton. She reviews for the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, and has chaired the Betty Trask and Desmond Elliot literary prizes. She was a judge for the Whitbread First Novel Award and for the 2014 Costa Novel Award.
Connect with Elizabeth:
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