11 July 2016

Review #484: The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.”

----E. Lockhart

Catherine Banner, an English author, pens a breathtaking yet poignant tale about an Italian family saga spun over a century and through three generations in an unknown island in her debut book, The House at the Edge of Night that revolves around the life of a doctor who after completing his studies in Florence, travels off to an Italian island, where he sets up his practice and eventually he also grows his own family through generations by buying the old house at the edge of the island where he opens a bar and runs it with the help of his wife. This book basically unfolds the stories of the people living on this island, thereby narrating the story of this island as a whole, which goes through war and many changes from the year 1914 to 2009.


On a tiny island off the coast of Italy, Amedeo Esposito, a foundling from Florence, thinks he has found a place where, finally, he can belong.

Intrigued by a building the locals believe to be cursed, Amedeo restores the crumbling walls, replaces sagging doors and sweeps floors before proudly opening the bar he names the ‘House at the Edge of Night’. Surrounded by the sound of the sea and the scent of bougainvillea, he and the beautiful, fiercely intelligent Pina begin their lives together.

Home to the spirited, chaotic Esposito family for generations, the island withstands a century of turmoil – transformed in ways both big and small by war, tourism and recession. It’s a place alive with stories, legends and, sometimes, miracles. And while regimes change, betrayals are discovered and unexpected friendships nurtured, the House at the Edge of Night remains: the backdrop for long-running feuds and the stage for great love affairs.

Amedeo Esposito, an Italian foundling, arrives at the island of Castellamare, off the coast of Italy, after getting appointed as a local physician in that island, on the day of Sant’Agata festival, who became the patron saint of the island after saving the island from weeping(for that you really need to read the book!)
Besides his medical practice and getting introduced with the local island folks, he began to collect the stories of this island, mainly folklore, into his red leather dairy that was gifted by his foster father. But despite of earning a good name, his bad reputation due to his past mistakes and his liaisons, the doctor is banished from further medical practices by the count of the island. And soon Amedeo marries the most intelligent widow on the island, Pina, along with whose help he reopens the old bar, The House at The Edge of Night, and through three generations, the Espositos serve coffee, wine, rice balls, limoncello and other Italian drinks and cakes, devoid of the bad gossips about Amedeo's past errors, the World War I and II, the great depression, the fascism era and many other challenges. From Amedeo's children to great grand children to their offspring, for three straight generations, the house stands strong and tall by providing as a strong pillar to all those stories of the people who pass through it.

Can family sagas be interesting? Heck yeah, read this book, you will know that family sagas can not only interesting, but they can be riveting, mind blowing , heart-touching and extremely addictive. Before further penning my review, I would like to give a standing ovation to the author, for penning such an extraordinary story that is actually a historical fiction about an Italian family, which generally sounds boring and midway through the story, the readers begin to yawn a lot, unlike this one. This novel is a rare gem found in the ocean of so many diverse historical fiction, that is part literary fiction, and part historical fiction. From the very first page, itself, the story hooked me right into its very core and depth where I simply lost myself into the island of Castellamare and with its stories.

The author's writing style is crisp and clear and is laced with myriad emotions that will make the readers either laugh or cry or feel sad or anger as per the story's flow. The narrative style of the author is emphatic and extremely interesting, that is not only inspired from the local dialect but can also be easily comprehended by the readers. The story is addictive and will easily keep the readers frantically turning the pages of this 470 pages long book till the very last page and surprisingly for not even once, the story will either bore the readers or make them feel meaningless. And with a fantastic prose, the story has a moderate pace as the story is laced under so many layers and with so many underlying stories, but the author peels away each layer gently and cleverly throughout the course of this story.

The author's backdrop painting of Castellamare, which is basically a fictional island, off the Italian coast, is magnificent, vivid, colorful and extremely eye-catchy. Surrounded by the vast blue ocean, this island definitely stands as a strong rock to the author;s beautiful family saga. The author has strikingly captured the bluish-green landscape of the island with its old traditional architecture, monuments and pathways. Apart from this island, The House at The Edge of Night plays a pivotal role in the story line, which the author arrests with extreme beauty by depicting as the only standing two-storeyed house surrounded with bougainvillea plant, by the edge of the island that have withstand many stories and sorrows through ages. And with an instant the readers can visualize this old house right before their own eyes, apart from the salty breeze, the sweet smell of limoncello and the rusty smell on the pavements.

From the historic point of view, the author includes so many major historical changes like the First World War, followed by the second world war and the invasion by the English troops, the fascist movement and the recession that are projected with evocatively, reading which the readers can easily feel the pain of the local folks undergoing the effects.

The characters in the book are very much realistically crafted complete with their flaws, shortcomings, defects, wishes, goals and determination. While reading about these characters, the readers are bound to feel a connection as well as their down-to-earth warmth of the characters. There is no such main character, as the story moves from one central character to another, its more like passing down through generations. Hence each and every character from this book play a major role that without whom, the story will be left incomplete. The people of the island are very much superstitious, a big believer in miracles and are very gossipy in nature, yet their unmatched charm will make the readers fall for them. And yes, they are so well developed, that they will imprint on the minds of the readers.

In a nutshell, this compelling story left me allured and enthralled with its vastness, diversity, beauty and emotional depth. I strongly recommend this novel to all the historical fiction readers.

Verdict: A captivating family saga through generation set across a small Italian island.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author, Catherine Banner, for giving me an opportunity to read and review this novel.

Author Info:
Catherine Banner was born in Cambridge, UK, in 1989 and began writing at the age of fourteen. She studied English at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, before moving to County Durham where she worked as a secondary school teacher. She has published a trilogy of young adult novels, The Last Descendants.
Her debut adult novel, The House at the Edge of Night, tells the story of the 2008 financial crisis and 95 years of European history through one family and their bar on a tiny Mediterranean island.
Her work is translated into 22 languages. She lives in Turin, Italy, with her husband.
Visit her here

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