Fans of Under The Tuscan Sun* by Frances Mayes will absolutely love her new fictional novel published last year. Reading Women in Sunlight is like taking a quick trip to Tuscany. The author treats us to the sights, sounds, and tastes of Italy without fighting airport lineups or the inconvenience and expense of stuffing our creaky bodies into a cramped airplane seat for seven hours to get there. Two of my girlfriends were scheduled to visit Tuscany this September for a week of cooking classes and sightseeing but the pandemic put an end to that. I share their disappointment as I also had to cancel my own plans to visit Paris this past June for a week-long writers’ retreat. It seems the only way we can safely visit foreign countries these days is through books or television shows.
I was introduced to Women in Sunlight when I watched Dream of Italy, a documentary on television about Frances Mayes and her villa, Bramasole in Tuscany. That’s where the movie Under The Tuscan Sun was filmed. See if you can find this program on Netflix or your streaming service because I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. For those of us who have been there, it’s like a lovely trip back and for those who have never been there, you’ll fall in love with the area just watching it on TV.
The story centers on three American women in their sixties—boomers, like us. Camille is a retired teacher and lapsed artist who has been recently widowed. Susan was widowed some years earlier and ran a highly successful real estate business with her late husband. Julia is a gourmet cook and retired editor of a cooking magazine. She’s recently separated from her husband and has an estranged relationship with their only daughter, a drug addict.
The three women meet at a preview showing of retirement suites in an assisted living facility. Their spiritual connection is immediate. They become friends and mutually agree that they’re not yet ready to move into an old folks’ home and would like to investigate other, more freedom-loving pursuits before they cash in their chips. They optimistically calculate living for another thirty years, “still in a bookclub, getting your hair done, and shopping the online sales at Saks”. As their friendship develops, they decide that a one-year sabbatical renting a villa in Tuscany is just the solution they need to pull them out of their sixties slump.
When they turn up next to ex-pat and writer Kit Raine’s villa in Tuscany, they inherit another complete set of friends. Kit and her British architect husband Colin have lived in the area for several years and they introduce the women to local business owners, artists, and residents. “This village is a hive, each house a honeyed cell.” Susan immediately starts work employing her home staging skills to convert their rented villa and gardens into a homey, comfortable, and colourful place to live. Camille’s artistic talents are reborn when she attends a paper-making and antique document restoration workshop in the village. Julia dives into the local food scene by investigating and cooking local produce and recipes for her friends.
There’s a bit of gratuitous romance and a couple of glitches in their year-long adventure, but the story is beautiful and uplifting to read. We tag along on their excursions to Capri (a magical place with a personality all its own), Florence, and Venice and get to vicariously share in all their adventures. Will the romances endure? Will they stay in Italy or go back to the United States at the end of the year? We’re kept suspense until the end of the book but their adventures along the way are joyful to read. The author paints beautiful visual images, shares poetry, and transports us to a beautiful country for as long as it takes to read the book. I loved it.
If you cannot find Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun, or my own book, Boomer Beat at your local bookstore or library, you can order here from Amazon by clicking on the image below of the book. Disclosure: You will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks for your support. And, enjoy your summer reading.
*Footnote: The movie Under The Tuscan Sun is a Hollywood-ized romantic interpretation of the original Frances Mayes book. The movie and the book are similar but somewhat different.