Reading The Invitation was another experience of time travel such as I’d enjoyed with Anton DiSclafani’s The After Party. But on this round the time warp was vicarious. Lucy Foley’s book reminded me so much of another that affected me hugely as a teenager, Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, which some sixty years ago introduced my boyish imagination to a fictional world of incredible sophistication. The parallels are remarkable. In both an expatriate English writer exiled penuriously to a Mediterranean city has a passionate relationship with the beautiful wife of a wealthy man, a woman whose background is a mystery. Their affair begins in an exotic ancient city, Alexandria in Justine, Rome for The Invitation. And in both cases the aftermath of their affair drives the Englishman to seek solitary refuge on the other side of the Med – a Greek island for Durrell, Morocco for Foley. So as I was currently reading The Invitation as a historical, my sixteen year old self was enjoying it as a contemporary, depicting a world he could only fantasize about ever experiencing. I did get to France and Italy a couple of years later, tho’ my adventures were rather tamer. Still, I’d seen enough for The Invitation to bring back some vivid memories, especially of Rome in the summer of ’60.
Some things didn’t seem quite true. Stella wouldn’t have been “jet-lagged” in Rome. Trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft were still powered by piston engines then (my first was in a DC-6 in 1958 – stopping in Shannon and Gander before reaching New York) and people like Mr & Mrs Truss would have travelled 1st-class on an ocean liner such as the Andria Doria anyway. Also, I doubt a water-ski craft would be built of teak. Too heavy. Again, as with The After Party, I paid much more attention to the evocation of time and place than I did to the artistic effects, so aesthetically this book is hard to rate, but I think I’ll hold at four stars. The subplot about the 16th-century Genoese sea captain seemed both awkward and pretentious. Some readers will surely like the ending, but I found it a bit tepid. All in all, tho’, Lucy Foley showed a real feeling for the setting & period and whether read for escape or nostalgia, this is a most pleasurable story. Fortunately I had both the audible and the ICPL hardcover, so could read episodes over again. But I must give kudos to Emma Gregory for her narration. In general she narrated in Posh English dialect, but I was so agreeably surprised by the voice she gave Stella. English readers so often give American characters a really nasal ugly generic American accent, but Stella sounded both ingenuous and melodious, tho’ quite authentic, with the sort of voice we would dream of for an American beauty of the period.