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Two novels set in Florence: Angels of Mud & Still Life

As Venice is for painters so Florence has attracted writers: E. M Forster’s Room With a View and Alex Preston’s In Love and War to name but two.

By happenstance the last two novels I have read were both set in post war Florence.

Curious too with half the Rust team in Nice.

The first – Angels of Mud (Vanessa Nicolson) – is essentially about mother Mary and daughter Cara.

Cara in her teens is saddened after being rejected by first love Tony Herrin and Mary suggests, after reading an ad, that she works in Florence cataloguing the effects of the aunt of Nicoletta.

She accepts the post and most of the novel is set in Florence with flashbacks to post-war Clerkenwell where Mary – married to a dullard bookseller Geoffrey – has a passionate physical affaire with Gianni from the local Italian community.

Cara  is the result.

The title stems from the volunteers, of which Cara is one, who save valuable works of art after the horrendous flood in Florence in 1966.

Tony does come out and explains why the relationship could never be, notwithstanding that they marry and later divorce.

A final contribution is made by Cara’s daughter Laura.

I found it a readable novel.

I lived in Florence in 1972 and it brought back many memories of that wonderful city.

The second novel – written by actress and author Sarah Winman – recommended by a friend unaware that I was reading Angels of Mud, is wider in scope but still set in Florence.

It starts with two British soldiers in the Italian campaign who relieve Florence.

One – Ulysses – saved the  life of Arturo and befriends art historian and lecturer Evelyn Skinner.

The novel moves back to a London pub The Stoat and Parrot and the post-war world of austerity.

Ulysses returns to Florence and sets up a pensione.

The flood also features.

There are too many characters and the writing is sometimes vulgar.

Yet it is brave as it covers a much longer period in greater detail than Angels of Mud.

Both authors, Vanessa Nicholson and Sarah Winman, have an impressive knowledge of Florentine art.

Of the two, I preferred Angels of Mud as – though less ambitious – it was more compact and less sprawling.

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About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts