This feels like an ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ moment. An admission of my own failure and confirmation that surely I’m missing something crucial if I could but see it. Because I’m sorry, but I really couldn’t get on with Madame Solario, which is one of the three new Persephone Books for the autumn.
I’m certain this this must be a failing with me and not the book. It must be. Because trying to prove myself wrong, I scoured the internet and read other reviews of Madame Solario that were unanimous in their love of the book, reverential about the writing and which embraced the characters completely. So why did I find it such a slog?
Originally published anonymously in 1956, Madame Solario caused quite a stir in its day with its accounts of unashamed love in a hedonistic summer at Lake Como in 1906. By the time of a 1980s reprint that revealed the author to be American writer Gladys Huntingdon, Madame Solario was accepted as a little-known but well-regarded literary triumph.
All of the ingredients were there for me to enjoy Madame Solario as much as everyone else seems to. Set in glorious Italy at the end of a turn-of-the-century summer, as the over-entitled upper-middle-classes swan about with a mixture of disregard and unrequited love for one another. Fabulous! What’s not to enjoy?!
But it just didn’t work for me. It took such a long time for anything to happen, and then an even longer time for anything else to happen. There were too many characters to try and distinguish from one another in the early chapters that I kept having to skim backwards to refresh my memory as to who they were. I found it impossible to care about any of the main characters, once I’d worked out who they were, and whether they found the happiness they felt they were entitled to. Ultimately it became a chore to read… and when there are so many books in the world that you’ll simply never have time to read, it feels wrong to spend time on a book you are not enjoying.
Of course, it is impossible for everyone to like a book, no matter how good it is. It’s all a matter of personal taste. And I feel I have missed something significant by not falling in love with Madame Solario the way that reviewers such as this one and all these have. So perhaps this will be a book I return to in a few years with fresh eyes and see anew. Here’s hoping.