Warning, I may struggle to contain my love for this book.
On an island off the coast of Tuscany, surrounded by olive groves and lemon trees, lies the Hotel Mille Luci. It’s a place people return to again and again, seduced by its languid splendour, the delights that come out of its kitchen and by the easy charm of its owner Valentino.
Then, into this idyllic setting crashes travel writer Kit. She might seem like any other guest, but she is far from that – and she brings with her a devastating truth that threatens to shake the foundations upon which the hotel is built, and forever change the lives of the people within it.
From the first few pages we learn that Kit’s mother Rosa is dying. Before she dies she reveals to Kit some information about her father that will take Kit to Italy and the island of Elba. Grieving her loss Kit finds herself forced to confront some difficult truths as she discovers secrets of her mothers past. The understanding of loss and grief displayed in the novel is beautiful and insightful. The character of Rosa although only alive for short time in the novel permeates the story and her influence is felt strongly.
Each of the characters are well developed. Despite the beauty of the Hotel Mille Luci and its healing power, it soon becomes clear that both the owner Valentino, and his ‘son’ Oliviero both have hidden sadnesses and secrets. Their are some interesting supporting characters who add to the story, Isabel the guest who returns for the same week every year, in particular has a warmth and I enjoyed her development albeit in the background for much of the story. There are some unexpected turns in this story but there are also clever hints, as what is to come is gradually revealed. It is never contrived and the actions of the characters are very much in keeping with what we already know of them.
The Thousand Lights Hotel is Emylia Hall’s 4th novel, and like her first novel ‘The Book of Summers, it has a strong sense of place, I defy anyone to read this and not want to visit Elba. The descriptions of food are as tantalising as the descriptions of the island itself and I read it dreaming of peaches warmed by the sun, small tomatoes, doused in olive oil and bursting with flavour and salty anchovies dancing on the tongue. This is the skill Emylia has to transport the reader to another place and time.
I had to drag myself from the pages of The Thousand Lights Hotel, I didn’t want my Italian journey to end. This is pure holiday reading joy, escapism of the most delectable kind.