I Give It To You
Villa Chiara is protected from the world outside by a high stone wall and an ancient gate with the initial S swirled in iron on each wing. The dusty, sun-struck road, scarcely wide enough for two small cars to pass each other without knocking their mirrors, cleaves to the wall for half a mile. On the far side, ranks of iconic sunflowers stand at attention like stolid soldiers, indifferent to the elements, awaiting their orders.
When you turn into the gates, what strikes you is that, though very near the road, the sparse yard that serves as a parking area feels private and cool. This gravel and packed-dirt patch is closed on four sides. On two, gardens of roses and herbs, backed by plum and apricot trees, disperse gentle fragrances into the hot afternoon air. Parallel to the gate, the charming limonaia stands with its back to the wall. Glass and verdigris copper doors glint beneath the shelter of the rafters which extend over a small stone terrace Artfully placed, hip-high pots of rosemary and lemon trees create a cool and semi-private sitting area.
On the fourth side, the imposing pale pink facade of the villa closes in the drive. A graceful triangular double staircase rises from two directions to a wide landing before the arched, manorial door. The villa has three floors. The lowest, behind the staircase, is the cantina, an unfinished space used to store farm equipment, as well as wine and olive oil, both products of the property. The two upper levels are lined with tall shuttered windows, looking out over the drive. The house isn’t grand but rather grandly substantial, and because of the perimeter wall it is impossible to view it from any distance. The Villa Chiara thus creates for itself an encapsulated space, peaceful, retired, without views.
"Yes, the narrator of Martin's new novel is a middle-aged American woman vacationing in Tuscany, but this prickly, uncomfortably relevant dive into personal and societal ethics is no escapist romance . . . Martin parses personal and social politics with methodical care and a reserved tone reminiscent of Edith Wharton."
—Kirkus, starred review
"An Italian villa and the family that owns it capture the imagination of an American writer in Martin's intimate, disquieting latest . . . Martin's engrossing tale explores relationships among family members and workers over four generations . . . Martin's masterly descriptions of the villa and its gardens are transportive. Evoking the charms and complexities of 20th-century Italy, Martin offers a thought-provoking reflection on writing, friendship, family, and betrayal."
"Valerie Martin has always been a consummate storyteller, but in her new novel she tackles the question of where do a writer's stories come from. And to whom does a story belong? The person it happened to or the one who tells it. In some ways all writers betray their subjects, and Valerie Martin digs into the heart of that betrayal. Reminiscent of Rachel Cusk's Outline Martin masterfully gives voice to those who have been silenced, whose stories would be lost were it not for a writer to retell it."
—Mary Morris, author of Gateway to the Moon