A sweeping, propulsive family saga set on a romantic and beautiful Italian island, for fans of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Beautiful Ruins.
On the tiny, idyllic island of Castellamare, off the coast of Sicily, lies The House at the Edge of Night, an ancient bar run by the Esposito family. There, over the course of three generations–from the eve of World War One to the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis–the Esposito women will fight to hold their family together against the threats that break across their shores. As lush and magical as the island at its centre, The House at the Edge of Night is a story of love and secrets, endurance, loss and, ultimately, triumph.
Admittedly, The House at the Edge of Night’s initial attraction was its similarities to Beautiful Ruins; a book that I’ve read recently and have enjoyed immensely. The small town setting has always inspired a community ideal that’s magical to me. And the townspeople possess a certain magnetism that I fail to describe time and again. Catherine Banner showed the town’s beauty so viscerally at times that I can almost hear the cacophony of the tides lapping the shores and the seagulls circling the open seas for a snack or two.
The House at the Edge of Night is the kind of book that you take to the beach because it is truly relaxing. The drama is virtually painless and much like Beautiful Ruins, it’s the perfect escape book. You will fall in love with the town and its people; its legends and myths. Castellamare may be fictional but it’s the very idea of such a town surviving in spite of itself, amid natural disasters and global economic collapse that makes it idyllic.
How do I explain the four generations of stories involved in this book? I suppose the story should begin with the patriarch of the Esposito family. So we start off with a foundling who grew up to be a doctor. After serving his time in the military, he found himself in a small town that was to become the root of his family genealogy. After a scandal involving this doctor and the count’s wife, he was shunned and was forced to either leave or do something else. But he loves Castellamare despite the humiliation and shunning he endured. He decided to stay put and opened a bar that he called, The House at the Edge of Night. Over the years, this establishment will become more than just a watering hole.
Indeed, it wasn’t just a bar; it’s where he would raise his family for generations to come. It’s where he would lose two of his sons and watch another barely survive the aftereffects of war. It’s where he would see his daughter fall in love with an Englishman and watch her fight for her true self – broken heart and all. It’s where he would learn to appreciate the triumph of family and love amid loss; the strength of the townspeople’s faith in the face of troubles and camaraderie and comfort in what was simple and familiar.
This book might not be intellectually challenging but it’s viscerally beautiful. It is full of love and sensuality, superstition and charming candor. The simplicity of the way of life in the small town is its foremost attraction; the heart is its people. I’ve always said reading is the cheapest way to travel and Castellamare is as close as I’m ever going to being in Italy. This book reminded me of how wonderful it is to appreciate the comfortable and easy. Not everything we read has to break our hearts, reduce us to tears or make us think about the uncertainty of the future. Sometimes, we just have to watch the story unfold like a rolling film in black and white.