Every Time We Say Goodbye

Written by Natalie Jenner
Review by Kristen McDermott

Jenner’s previous novels, The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls, have established an enchanting group of characters drawn together by their love of literature and their dedication to making room for women’s voices in post-World-War-II English culture. This third novel in the series offers an entirely new setting – Cinecittà, Rome’s burgeoning film studio, in 1955 – and quite a different mood from the quirky, bookish world of the first two titles. One of the main characters in Bloomsbury Girls, author Vivien Lowry, is the central character this time, fleeing to a temporary gig as a script doctor after her latest play receives disastrous reviews from misogynist London theatre critics. Once in Rome, she finds herself caught up in a variety of romantic and professional schemes among her colleagues, who include real-life luminaries such as Gina Lollobrigida, Ava Gardner, and Federico Fellini, along with fictional directors and stars.

Jenner shifts the focus, however, from cinematic glamour to serious questions about how the citizens of Rome cope with their particularly traumatic wartime experiences. Another central character, whose story takes place 12 years earlier, is “La Scolaretta,” a young woman whose work for the Resistance includes assassination, and whose capture and execution are the dark center of a swirl of relationships, both open and hidden, that Vivien gradually learns the truth about.

Ultimately, this is a story about survivors’ guilt and the redemption that can come from trust and self-sacrifice. Readers looking for the charm of the first two novels will still find it in Jenner’s evocation of Roman culture and street life, but this book asks more of the reader and is ultimately incredibly moving. Its insights into the way history can both empower and hold us back are thoughtful, and beautifully woven into a compelling narrative.