Cruising along the Italian Riviera in the 1950s sounds like a luxurious experience, and this feeling is conveyed to readers of Lucy Foley’s second novel. For the lovers at its center, the journey also entails revisiting their hidden pasts. Journalist Hal Jacobs first meets the glamorous Stella at an Italian contessa’s party in Rome in 1951. Escaping the crowds in a rooftop garden, these lonely strangers form a connection and later spend a single, memorable night together.
They encounter each other again two years later. Both are invited by the Contessa along on a publicity tour via yacht from Liguria to Cannes to promote a film based on her sea-captain ancestor’s diary. Hal is hired to document the trip for an Italian magazine, while Stella is married to the film’s major funder. Hal is dismayed not only by this unpleasant revelation but also because Stella appears diminished in her wealthy husband’s presence. As she and Hal are drawn together amid the high-profile social circle aboard ship, he yearns for her true personality to emerge—and to recapture their lost intimacy.
Stella’s traumatic history unfolds in steady flashbacks to the Spanish Civil War, while a painful episode in Hal’s past is revealed much later, with dramatic impact. Hal’s reading of the diary, which he recasts in narrative form, strangely seems to parallel what he sees. Among the stylish secondary characters who accompany and observe the couple—many have hidden pasts of their own—the elegant Contessa stands out for her understanding wisdom.
Each scene in this lyrically written novel is laden with emotion, and although the story glides along leisurely, the details are worth savoring. The Invitation is a perfect read for those who love traveling via fiction. Foley evokes the character of each city and village along the sun-drenched voyage, from the contrasting decadence and industrial grime of Genoa to the verdant cliffs of Cervo and beyond.