Margo Harrington, an American expatriate living in Italy, is excited to hear that her memoir, The Sixteen Pleasures, will be made into a feature film. The book details her experiences when she first came to Florence. While working in a convent, restoring irreplaceable books damaged in the flood of 1966, she discovered a book of Renaissance Erotica—sixteen erotic poems and sixteen erotic drawings. Her memoir explicitly detailed her love affair with an Italian art conservator and told how he and others desperately tried to steal her valuable book. Twenty-five years later, her current friend and lover, Woody, who was drawn to Italy by rather unfortunate circumstances, assists her in writing the screenplay.
Esther Klein, an independent filmmaker who has broken up with her husband and co-producer, obtains the rights to Margo’s story, and she’s anxious to prove that she can produce a film on her own. An unknown actress, Miranda Clark, who is obsessed with Margo’s life, has been chosen to play the title role. She’s read The Sixteen Pleasures numerous times and wants to make sure that the story is truthfully depicted in the movie. Esther and director Michael Gardiner have other plans—to make it into a romantic comedy, thus commercially successful. Conflicts ensue, but that’s only one aspect to the story.
The Italian Lover (which later becomes the name of the movie) explores the lives of these individuals, along with the rest of the cast and crew, as they film in Florence. Italy affects the Americans in ways unimaginable. Some feel that they can begin a new life, even at middle age. Their sense of morality, along with their value system, is challenged. No matter what their particular circumstance, each life is changed forever.
The Italian Lover is such a unique novel—and it’s one of the most absorbing and satisfying books that I’ve ever read. Each supporting character is fully developed, with both decent and flawed traits. Readers can actually relate to and understand them, as we share in their experiences.
In addition, author Robert Hellenga brings to life the rich Italian culture. I felt that I was back in Italy, sipping Prosecco and savoring antipasti along with the characters. He vividly portrays the people, art, and romance of Venice, Rome, Naples, Bologna, and, of course, Florence. Whether you’ve looked out from the Piazzale Michelangelo or not, The Italian Lover will take you on a sensual and captivating journey.
(review previously published on www.nightsandweekends.com)