The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner


It’s the time of year for beach reads and this book qualifies as pleasingly as you could imagine. I’ve had hours of happy entertainment as I weeded, cooked, and cleaned. Not exactly the beach, but there it is. The multi-generational story is set on a fictional island off the coast of Sicily and begins around the turn of the 20th century. The characters abound:  the doctor who began life as a foundling in Florence, the Count who lords it over everyone, the nearly blind midwife, the chorus of scopa players, and that’s just the first generation.

To give a taste of how this goes, here’s the story of the twins who had two mothers. Amadeo, the doctor from Florence, had an affair with the Count’s wife, extending even after his marriage to his beloved wife. The two women gave birth the same night and though it was denied, people always believed the Count’s son was half brother to Amadeo’s children.

The story of the change in island life over the century is that of dramatic change with some constants. First radio, then television, neon signs, cars, and tourists arrived, while the celebration of St. Agatha and the endless gossiping continued. The discovery of an important necropolis on the fictional island brought tourists who had an easy ferry ride from Sicily.

These changes made me think of Malta where I spent the month of April this year and it is easy to imagine how different life must have been there a hundred years ago. Though Malta is packed with people (among the top ten most densely populated countries), still you can imagine that everyone knows everyone else’s business.

Catherine Banner, The House at the Edge of Night, Random House, 2016, 448 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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