We begin in 1928 when Irene arrives in Florence to visit her stuffy, exiled English aunt, who lives, in the shadow of Fascist violence, in calculatedly eccentric fashion - peacock feathers, daft tea parties. The sad affair develops when Irene meets a handsome but rather twittish Italian called Tommaso. She swiftly marries him, much to the distress of Aunt Frances, who cautions: 'If you marry an Italian you do not marry a man but a family.'
Amanda Prantera, born in England but married to an Italian, clearly understands wedlock in a country where divorce was introduced only in 1970. One can trust The Young Italians for its amused picture of the vast, tribal kinships that form the vertebrae of Italian society. Irene's sister-in-law, Sylvia, is a strange creature who envies Tommaso his fortuitous marriage to this alluring English girl. But Irene likes Sylvia; in fact, she half loves her.
Any lesbian affair would be frowned upon at a time when Mussolini was pinning special fecundity medals to the bosoms of pregnant mothers. This particular one grievously upsets Irene's family, although its members pretend not to notice. At this point a fourth person enters the amorous equation, the mysterious Giuliano. He pounces lynx-like on Irene, and then bamboozles her with the promise of eternal love and so forth.
There's a pleasing symmetry to The Young Italians: Giuliano dies and Irene's marriage to the doltish Tommaso turns out to be a less sad affair. Prantera's research into the rise of Fascism has been diligent, and episodes from prewar Italy - the invasion of Ethiopia, Hitler's visit to Rome - are woven into a plot which might otherwise appear a bit flat. Less impressive are the lame puns ('They were saddled with one another, and the saddles fitted and they wore them . . .') But these are hiccups in a book which generally entertains.Reuse content