Thursday, July 05, 2012


Simonetta Agnello Hornby is the author of the better-known The Almond Picker, an entertaining tale of family squabbles and revenge which is not without a hint of sadness. 

In The Marchesa Agnello Hornby embarks upon another family saga, taking as her main character Costanza Safamita, later the Marchesa Sabbiamena, who really lived: Adored by her supposed father but unloved by her mother, the young Costanza turns to the servants for solace and the story is told through the memories of her one-time wet nurse, Amalia Cuffaro, as she tells them to her disabled niece Pinuzza. 

Now, I always have trouble with books that have so many characters that you have to keep turning to a list of them, and several times I lost track of who people were in this saga. The second problem I had with the book is that each chapter has a heading which tells you what happens and I found this irritating as it made me wonder if there was any point in reading on. Alastair McEwen has effected a fine translation but I couldn't help feeling that some restructuring of the narrative was also necessary for the English edition. That said, I am glad that I did choose to read on, for I became caught up in the tale from about half-way through. 

The book also offers an unusual insight into how the Sicilian aristocracy of the second half of the nineteenth century lived and into their mores. The Mafia features in this novel but I feel that the organisation's shadowy presence adds little to the tale and would be muddling to anyone not well versed in Sicilian history. 

We know from the beginning that Costanza dies young so we read the book in full awareness that there will be no happy ending. Her love story is also heartbreaking. I wanted to know more about Amalia Cuffaro and Pinuzza: we are not told why Amalia squandered the property and money given her by the Safamita family, nor do we learn the precise nature of Pinuzza's illness.

Therefore I would say the book is unsatisfactory in several ways but it is readable for what it is: a good yarn set against real historical events.


Leslie: said...

Good to know from someone who has read the book. Thanks.

Patricia said...

I have to tell you, I read both of these books years ago...The Almond Picker in 2005 and The Marchesa in 2009 and I loved both of them. I did have some difficulty with keeping the characters straight at first but once the story took hold, I was hooked. I am always looking for stories set in Sicily. have you read any of Theresa Maggio's novels, or No Pictures in My Grave by Susan Caperna Loyd, or The Wind Off the Island by Ernle Bradford? Please tell us of others you have found with English translations.

marymaryquitecontrary said...

I have just ordered both these books. Hope I will live long enough to read all the books on my shelves............not to mention those on my kindle. Now I have just read the comment left by Patricia and need to go back to Amazon again!

marymaryquitecontrary said...

Oh dear now five new books on way !!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

My pleasure, Leslie. Hi, Patricia. Glad I'm not the only one who had difficulty at first! I haven't read the books you mention and will look for them - thanks. Have you read "The Ruby in her Navel" by Barry Unsworth? Hi, MaryMary. Happy reading!

Patricia said...

I just reserved the book from my library thanks to your suggestion. I was not aware of the book. Grazie!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

A pleasure, Patricia and I hope you enjoy it.


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