cover image Restoration


Olaf Olafsson. HarperCollins, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-206566-7

There’s a lot going on in Olafsson’s fourth novel: it’s 1944, the Allies are advancing, the Germans retreating, and the front line is moving closer to San Martino, the Tuscan estate that English-born Alice Orsini and her Italian husband have restored. But that’s not all: Alice has a guilty conscience and a dead son; her husband has disappeared; a mysterious painting is buried on her property; and she and her staff are running an orphanage and health clinic. The arrival of an Icelandic painter and art restorer should set the stage for fireworks, but doesn’t. Despite many possibilities for drama, Olafsson’s book falls flat. Alice brings her husband up to date via her diary entries, and an omniscient narrator informs us of everything else, none of it with much flair. The prose is rooted in exposition and explanation, and clichés abound. Olafsson, an executive v-p at Time Warner, based Alice on Iris Origo, an aristocratic Englishwoman married to an Italian whose account of staving off the Germans while sheltering orphans and Allied soldiers at her Tuscan villa was published as War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943–1944. By the time the fighting heats up and the plot strands all coalesce, the stake that readers should have in the fates of these characters just isn’t there. (Feb.)