Tag Archives: Rosanna Ley

Review of Bay of Secrets by Rosanna Ley

Standard

I have to declare an interest – Rosanna Ley is my former Creative Writing tutor at Northbook College and I’m delighted at her success with her last three books. That said, if I didn’t enjoy reading her work, I wouldn’t be reviewing her books. I really enjoyed The Villa – see my review here. Would Bay of Secrets be as much fun? bayofsecrets

Spain, 1939. Following the wishes of her parents to keep her safe during the war, a young girl, Julia, enters a convent in Barcelona. Looking for a way to maintain her links to the outside world, she volunteers to help in a maternity clinic. But worrying adoption practices in the clinic force Sister Julia to decide how far she will go to help those placed in her care.

England, 2011. Six months after her parents’ shocking death, 34-year-old journalist and jazz enthusiast Ruby Rae has finally found the strength to pack away their possessions and sell the family home. But as she does so, she unearths a devastating secret her parents, Vivien and Tom, had kept from her all her life.

This book has three protagonists, two are women and one is a man. Ley followed the lives and fortunes of three women from the same family in The Villa – but there the resemblance ends. These three storylines initially seem quite disparate. I could see fairly early on where two of them were going, but the story of the nun seemed to stand alone. Not that was a hardship, as I found her story compelling.

I found myself really caring for each of these people, and hoping they would somehow prevail. Ruby, in particular, tugged at my heartstrings. Losing parents suddenly in an accident, at any age, must be a terrible body blow. I like the fact that Ley doesn’t assume that after a couple of months, Ruby will simply ‘bounce back’. And of course it is complicated by the fact that when clearing out their house, Ruby makes a momentous discovery, which means that her anger at having been shut out from this terrific secret all her life is now entangled with her grief. Ley effectively depicts Ruby’s sense of betrayal and hurt without dropping the pace or narrative drive, by setting Ruby’s story alongside that of Julia. It’s a neat trick to pull off and works very well.

Ley is a very sensual writer, who immerses her readers in her surroundingss by vivid descriptions of the smells, sounds and haptic experiences of her characters. This aspect of her writing came to the fore when Andrés becomes a part of the story. He is a painter and Ley’s prose kicks up a notch when we see the world through his eyes. Her descriptions are lyrically beautiful, without losing the pace and immediacy of the story. It’s one thing to embark on a story with several apparently unconnected characters, but in order to succeed, the story needs to come to a satisfactory climax that affects or involves everyone. Ley triumphantly succeeds in producing a moving, shocking conclusion that I simply didn’t see coming – which is why I’ve been so very careful not to lurch into spoiler territory.

If you enjoy contemporary fiction that leaps off the page, shines a light on a terrible episode of Spanish history, and provides an engrossing story then go looking for Bay of Secrets. It’s an accomplished, cracking read. 10/10

Review of The Villa by Rosanna Ley

Standard

Rosanna Ley, aka Jan Henley, has been through several incarnations during her writing career – and this enjoyable slice of escapism is certainly attracting attention as the book steadily climbed the best-seller lists during the summer.

When Tess Angel receives a solicitor’s letter inviting her to claim her inheritance – the Villa Sirena, perched on a clifftop in Sicily – she is stunned. Her only link to the island is through her mother, Flavia, who left Sicily during World War II and cut all contact with her family.  Initially resistant to Tess going back to her roots, Flavia realises the secrets from her past are about to be revealed and decides to try to explain actions. Meanwhile, Tess’ teenage daughter Ginny is stressed by college, by her blooming sexuality and filled with questions that she longs to ask her father, if only she knew where he was.

the villaSo this book has three protagonists – Flavia, Tess and Ginny. It’s a big ask to be able to pull off writing convincingly as a seventy-something and as a seventeen year old – and Ley manages it. Ginny’s chippy comments are both poignant and funny, while the story that Flavia gradually reveals, along with Sicilian recipes is both remarkable and believable. While her stay in Sicily allows Tess the space to finally decide what she wants from life, after struggling to raise Ginny as a single parent.

This book has the potential to be an almighty mess – balancing three separate stories spanning over half a century, with a backdrop straddling modern Britain and a remote Sicilian village certainly is harder to achieve than Ley makes it look. In addition, Ley has further challenged modern tastes by insisting on slowing the pace down, particularly during the Sicilian interludes. We are treated to lengthy descriptive passages and detailed instructions on how to make several classic Sicilian dishes – in effect a substantial section of this book is an homage to a slower, simpler pace of life. However, Ley is also at pains not to paint too cosy a picture of these tough, touchy people, who are quick to take offence and very slow to forgive – with sometimes catastrophic consequences.

While there is a love interest, this isn’t the engine that drives this book forward – it is the tension running through all three generations of strong-minded women in trying to find some kind of peace and happiness. Do they succeed? What is the mystery that has torn apart two families who had been friends for generations? And why is Flavia so determined never to return to the land of her birth? How can Ginny negotiate the demands of her friends, along with those of her boyfriend?

This isn’t the sort of book I generally read and enjoy – but I stayed up reading into the small hours, unwilling to put The Villa down as I was drawn into the story and wanted to know what happened next. And while the cover blurb repeatedly suggests it is an ideal summer read, I think it would be also be one to curl up with in the dead of winter, where those vivid descriptions of the baking Sicilian landscape may help to keep you warm…
9/10