A romance, almost an anti-romance, The Invitation by Lucy Foley is a poignant novel with two parallel stories of dangerous obsession and fantasy.
Hal, who has drifted to Rome after serving in the Royal Navy in World War Two, leads a cheap life, surviving on writing assignments, living in a cheap area, Trastevere. One day he accepts from a friend an invitation to a party, an invitation the friend is unable to use. Arriving in his dusty suit, Hal feels apart from the glamour and wealth on show, the jewels, the gowns, the dinner suits. There he sees an enchanting, puzzling young woman who appears icy, untouchable, out of reach.
They meet again when Hal is invited by the hostess of the Rome party, the Contessa, to be attached as journalist to the forthcoming promotional tour for her film, The Sea Captain. They are to sail along the coast to Cannes where the film will be premiered at the film festival. Invitations, accepted and refused, feature frequently throughout the novel, forcing decisions to be made, plans changed, opportunities grasped. The close proximity of the group of disparate passengers begins to unveil secrets, cracks in carefully-controlled behaviour, shameful secrets and lies. As well as Hal and the Contessa, on board are the ageing, artistic film producer; the ageing, drunk leading man; the glamorous siren-like leading lady; the pale beaten-down photographer; the husband and wife investors; and Roberto, the Contessa’s skipper.
Within this story of a coastal journey is a story-within-a-story, the love story on which The Sea Captain is based. A sea captain returning home from a victorious naval battle rescues a drowning figure. Once on board, it is realised it is a naked woman. The captain is captivated by her, his crew fear she is a witch and will bring bad luck. On land, the captain keeps the woman as his mistress, given everything she might wish, in a lavishly-decorated house. It is a morality tale of the perils of attempting to mould another person into something you want but which they are not. This tale of the gilded cage echoes throughout the novel. So will true life mirror the film version of the story, or the true story? Of course a film is fictional, the truth being manipulated for dramatic effect, something which cannot be done with true secrets which have a way of making themselves known.
A sad, subtle tale of warning about obsessive love, fantasy and longing.
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THE INVITATION by @lucyfoleytweets #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3hU via @SandraDanby