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The Italian Escape by Catherine Mangan

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Women’s Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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The Italian Escape, the debut novel from Irish writer Catherine Mangan, is published with Sphere and is described as ‘a feel-good holiday romance set in Italy – the PERFECT beach read for summer 2021’. Considering the restrictions of the last twelve months, and the fact that the last holiday we were supposed to take was to Sardinia in June 2020, I really needed an injection of pure escapism right now and this sounded just perfect.

When Catherine Mangan was flicking through a magazine she had her first encounter with the small village of Camogli, on Italy’s Ligurian Coast. It was love at first sight for Catherine and after a few years she made her first of many trips there providing her with the inspiration for this, her debut novel.

‘The sight of this magical spot, off the tourist-beaten track and encompassing every wonderful thing about Italy (local food and wine, jaw dropping coastal views and decadent sunsets that never failed to delight for Aperol Spritz o’clock on the terrace) made me catch my breath in awe, and caught my imagination in ways I couldn’t then understand. I’ve managed to return almost every summer since, shunning the idea of exploring new countries in exchange for the guaranteed magic of a week on the Ligurian Coast. On one recent trip I found myself fantasizing about the temptation of not going back to reality, but instead irresponsibly but resolutely shrugging off the shackles of everyday life and deciding to stay. The seed for The Italian Escape was sown!’– Catherine Mangan

Niamh Kelly’s life has collapsed. Her boyfriend of four years, who also happens to be her employer, has dumped her. Distraught, Niamh’s plans for her future are in bits. Sitting at home with her parents every night Niamh is depressed, losing complete interest in all her surroundings. Her sister makes an attempt to cheer her up by suggesting Niamh accompany her to Italy on a business conference. Niamh is initially sceptical but decides to give it a shot. Wallowing in self pity is not going to help her in any way so, following some much-needed grooming and retail therapy, she sets off on a journey that will ultimately change her life forever.

When arriving in Italy the smells and sounds are just something magical to experience. There is nothing quite like waking up in Italy with a view of the glorious sunshine sparkling off the sea or sitting on a waterside bar with a pastry and a caffè while watching the world go by, or relaxing of an evening sipping an Aperol Spritz or a Limoncello and thinking about the possibility of a different life. Catherine Mangan had all these thoughts and decided that she would make that escape from reality through fiction and through the adventures of the gutsy Niamh Kelly.

While Grace is attending meetings, Niamh wanders the local villages and towns, one of which is Camogli, and she is immediately smitten by the beauty of this place. Less crowded than other locations on the Ligurian Coast, Niamh feels at peace here and returns with Grace on a separate occasion to show her around. It is then that Niamh spots a premises empty, looking forlorn and in need of some attention. Niamh makes a spontaneous decision that perhaps a more committed Italian escape might just be the rescue from her life that she needs.

Niamh is very lucky to encounter a few locals who are very supportive of her planned adventure and willing to assist her but there are numerous obstacles in her way, one of course being the language. But Niamh has never felt more determined in all her life and waves Grace off on the return plane to Ireland with a sense of optimism and hope. As the weeks pass Niamh is exhausted but happy to be in this most beautiful place but then tragedy strikes and Niamh has some serious decisions to make. Can she continue to live the dream or is it time for Niamh to pack her bags and go home?

‘Having lived and worked in six foreign countries, I know first hand how the initial excitement and enthusiasm can fray at the edges when the frustrating realities of getting your new life in order set in. I also had a whole host of ‘did that actually happen’ anecdotes to tap into from my own misadventures abroad. So, as the word count stacked up and the unwitting, reluctant protagonist set off on her journey in search of a new life in Italy, I knew just how insecure and uncertain she might feel and how she’d second guess her decision on a daily basis but refuse to give up.’
– Catherine Mangan

The Italian Escape is exactly as its name implies. It is an escape for every reader to a place of such incredible beauty, where the warmth of the sun and the fresh smell of coffee and lemons assail the senses. Niamh Kelly is the person we would all love to be, the adventurer, the risk-taker, the dream grabber. In reality much of what happens to Niamh is very much fictional but wouldn’t it be wonderful? To just go?

Catherine Mangan writes with a real natural wit and a warmth that filters through the pages. The sense of location is very strong really positioning the reader on the coast of Italy. The Italian Escape is a sweet and charming read, a delightful piece of pure escapism that was a pleasure to get lost in. The Italian Escape really is the perfect companion by the pool, on the beach or, more realistically, in your own back garden!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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