Young Mary Panton is recovering from the death of her husband a year earlier. Friends who own a villa outside of Florence, Italy, have offered her the use of the place to recover her spirit and decide the direction her life will take. Maugham’s descriptions of the Tuscan countryside, the air, the gardens, the furnishings of the villa are so vivid. It is easy to imagine why Tuscany continues to draw travelers in and to hold them there.
Mary has a suitor who has proposed marriage. When he is called away from Florence for a few days on business, Mary promises to give him her answer upon his return. During those few days, events take several unexpected turns and other men enter the drama: brash, rich, ne’er-do-well Rowley and Karl, an impoverished refugee of war from Austria. It should come as no surprise: If one carries a gun, one should expect that it will go off.
The final line of the book sums it up nicely: “Darling, that’s what life’s for – to take risks.” You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out who is speaking and why.
The paperback copy that I read was published in 2000 by Vintage International. The cover is a beautiful rendition of a painting by Maxfield Frederick Parrish, The Villa Scassi, Genoa from 1904. By comparison the cover of the current edition is so atrocious that I couldn’t bring myself to add it to our blog. I used a copy of the painting itself instead.