by Susan Meissner
When she was a child, Meg's father promised her that someday he'd take her to Florence. The city had been the home of Meg's grandmother before she moved to the United States, so Meg had grown up on tales of the magic and beauty of the city. However, Meg's dad has never been reliable, and the trip never materialized. But Meg wants to believe that her father will come through for her – and finally, he does. He sends her a plane ticket and tells her to meet him in Florence. Meg scrambles to get her things together, but she gets to Italy...only to find that her father isn't there, and will not be meeting her. Meg is alone in a city she's only visited in her dreams, unable to speak the language or navigate the streets. Luckily, she's an editor at a publisher of travel books, so she has friends in Florence, including a hopeful writer named Sofia Borelli, who claims to be one of the last Medici. Sofia eagerly invites Meg into her home and takes her to visit the major sites of the city, but the more time they spend together, the more nervous Meg feels about publishing Sofia's book. While her memoirs are beautifully written, Sofia makes constant references to Nora Orsini, a dead Medici princess that Sofia claims whispers to her when she visits Florence's great artistic masterpieces. To publish the book, Meg must convince Sofia to 'tone down' the ghostly presence of Nora, and prove her connection to the Medici family.
The story is told through three different narrators: Meg, Sofia and Nora. The chapters of Nora are short – little vignettes about her life in Renaissance Florence, and her great love of the city. The scenes are snapshots of just before she left her hometown to join her husband, so they're dripping with nostalgia for her childhood. Sandwiched between the voices of Sofia and Meg, she seems like an intrusion into the modern world, so I think the chapters are the echoes of Nora that Sofia hears. But while Sofia is charmed by her ability to hear the voice of a long dead Medici, I was rather annoyed because they seemed disruptive and unnecessary.
Sofia, the last of the Medici, writes with (understandably) similar nostalgia. She speaks of the city in her intimate writing, excerpts of which are being read by Meg both before and during her trip to Florence. Sofia is a tour guide, so she knows how to open up the city to new eyes. Her descriptions of the city were beautiful snapshots of Florence as viewed by a tourist, and it made me long for the month that I spent there last year. It was powerful.
Most of the story is told through Meg, the American editor suddenly stranded in Florence. Meg was a difficult character. I think she's in her very early thirties, based on her description of her career, but I'm not certain of that. At times she is very passive and wishy-washy. She seems to show absolutely no interest in learning Italian; there are several scenes of her demanding others speak English, which make her seem very spoiled since she's in freakin' Italy. She claims that she's longed to visit Florence ever since she can remember, but never takes the initiative to go because she's waiting on her father to take her. To me, that signals that she doesn't want to go that badly, but whatever.
I really enjoyed this book because the writing took me right back to Florence and the adventures I enjoyed there last summer. Although parts of the book are set in the past, it celebrates and brings to life the Florence of now, not the 14th or 15th centuries. It's been a while since I read a book that did that. There's also a bit of a mystery building throughout as Meg tries to figure out Sofia's exact relationship to the Medici, and the ending is unexpected and satisfying.
4 out of 5 stars
To read more about The Girl in the Glass, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Bedbugs by ben H. Winters
2010: Photos: 20 Brilliant Bookshelves
2009: The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
2008: Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Kiva.org Giveaway