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Under Italian Skies is the latest book by Nicky Pellegrino. Nicky was kind enough to answer questions about her book and I’ve incorporated them into this review.
Stella, a sensible soul, is faced with needing to reevaluate her life after her friend (and boss) dies. She is unsure what she wants to do in terms of employment, just knows that she needs new direction. She is inspired by the concept of a gap year, and comes across the idea of an international house swap. Unlike women portrayed in similar novels, she does not fall apart and she isn’t running away. She just creates a scenario where she can get inspiration. I asked Nicky(below right) if she had a real life inspiration for Stella:
“I tend to avoid change in my own life. But often it’s forced on us and we have to deal with it; which is Stella’s situation. I think she does panic to begin with because she’s a person who is used to having a plan and making things happen. Then when she comes up with the house-swap idea she throws herself into it with all the efficiency she brought to her working life. The character wasn’t inspired by any one real person but I guess I always take bits and pieces of things that people say and do, and end up stitching them into my stories.”
My favourite aspect of the story was the character of Stella. Stella seeks direction and in watching her do so, we learn a lot about her life, career, friendships and relationships. She is not defined by any of these domains and is a very well-rounded character. Nicky says, “I think about my characters all the time; like I would a good friend who was at a crossroads in their life. I might be driving along or walking the dogs or lying in bed or blow-drying my hair; but my brain is busy turning them and their situation over in my mind. So in the end they are real to me and hopefully to the reader.
I think in my books the story is generally driven by the characters, so it’s important they are rounded and balanced.”
A lot of books that are involve the protagonist visiting a foreign location see the setting through the character’s eyes only. The setting is there just to be different, and is really there just for the character to comment on its difference. I was really impressed with how strong the fictional ‘Triente’ came across in Under Italian Skies. This is helped by Triente having such a passionate advocate – the owner of the house Stella swaps with is keen for her to experience the region through visiting interesting destinations and meeting people. He enjoys her emails discussing her adventures and really wants her to love the house and Triente as he does. The beauty of the region is well explained, without being corny.
Nicky Pellegrino spent her childhood summers in Italy and I asked if there was a particular influence for Triente. Nicky says,”It’s actually a real place, called Maratea (image to left), which is beside the coast of Basilicata in the south west of Italy. My father’s cousin has a house there which we’ve stayed in several times: that is what Villa Rosa is based on. It’s a beautiful area – kind of like Amalfi but without the crowds – but I changed its name because I wanted to be free to do a bit of creative “town planning”. There is a linen shop there though, that is very like the one in my books. And many churches and a harbour area with lots of seafood restaurants. It’s become a special place to me over the years.”
This is great sit-by-a-sunny-window read – an inspiration for creating change or resetting your life without requiring extreme chaos to do so. There are so many fantastic supporting characters – people who are helped by Stella as she is helped by them. I could think of real life acquaintances who remind me of these characters, so had quite a giggle. Under Italian Skies can be quite funny at times but its success as a novel ultimately rests in the strength of its characters and their interactions. I really enjoyed reading it.
Review and Interview by Emma Wong-Ming
Under Italian Skies
by Nicky Pellegrino
Published by Orion