What a cast of characters Siddons has created in this novel. Although they are few, they are remarkable and polarizing as to whether you like them or despise them.
Cat Compton lost her parents when she was a five year old girl and was raised by her grandparents in a small college hill town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She finishes, college, marries a professor, Joe Gaillard, at the college and has a daughter, who is born blind. The trauma of the death of her parents and the uncertainty of the "outside" world contributes to her agoraphobia. She has such a difficult time coming down from the mountain, that she undergoes a very rigorous course of psychotherapy. When one of Joe's former students announces that he will be married in Italy, it is a chance for Cat to muster up some courage and accompany her husband to Rome for the wedding.
Joe, like so many of us, arrives at his destination without luggage. He scrambles for some clothing before he and Cat are off to a pre-wedding party at the palatial home of Ada and Sam Forrest. There are the young couple Colin and Maria and the wild Yolanda, a TV personality. Sam is a famous painter and Ada will do whatever she needs to do to push his career, including pushing him to begin painting Cat.
After a couple of medical emergencies as they traverse Italy from Rome to Venice to Tuscany, energies, emotions, and hormones become unleashed. Is all that happens attributed to the change in Cat, the machinations of Ada, the vulnerability of Joe, the licentious actions of Sam, or the unrestrained influence of Yolanda? When they reach Sienna, the plot thickens as the portrait of Cat is unveiled.
I really wanted to like this book. It was very favorably reviewed. It was well written, a wonderful travelogue through Italy. However, I did find the characters, although well developed, a bit unappealing. I wanted to shake them and say what are you doing? The novel is a quick read and perfect for a diversion from the spy, mystery books I usually like. Siddons attempts to fill her characters with all that is part of human nature and, as Yolanda succinctly puts it, "Americans behave badly in Italy."