The Battle of the Villa Fiorita
I love everything that Rumer Godden has ever written: her evocative descriptions, her delicately drawn relationships between children and adults, her subtle and technically brilliant structures, never cease to thrill me. And I found most of The Battle of Villa Fiorita deeply enjoyable. But it's a very old-fashioned novel in its treatment of divorce and its effect on the children involved.
Fanny (there's an old-fashioned note, right there) is staying with her new partner, Rob, at an Italian villa, waiting for her divorce to Darrell to be finalised. Her two children, fourteen and twelve, run away from England and track her down, intending to drag her back 'home.' Their quest seems doomed from the outset, but the struggle proves to be surprisingly even.
There is no happy ending here, which is the most old-fashioned aspect of the story; an outcome which will satisfy everyone is never going to be possible, it seems, and frustratingly, it is Fanny, the mother, who has to sacrifice her own personal joy in the end. It was fascinating to read Rob's bracing views on child-rearing (his own 10 year old daughter, Pia, also ends up joining the party) -- the man and woman should come first, not the children, he insists to Fanny, and he urges her to give her offspring less attention and let them learn to cope with the situation -- not necessarily advice that modern relationship counsellors would endorse! And Rob loses all his authority when he spanks Pia, so he's clearly no expert... It was interesting to see Rob and Fanny's bond unravel over their attitudes to the children, but Rob's conviction that they can exist in a bubble, ignoring their respective baggage, is obviously never going to be sustainable.
I would have loved this book even more if it had had a different ending.