BOOK REVIEW: The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

Quercus Books
March 2017
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction/Modern & Contemporary Fiction

6/10

On paper, a book like The Little Theatre by the Sea has the ingredients for a fabulous, summer read. It has an interesting-enough premise, it’s set in a fine, exotic location and it’s by the best-selling author of The Villa and The Saffron Trail. The end product, however, is like a pleasant but not particularly memorable holiday because you may have enjoyed some moments that provided short bouts of escapism, but you certainly won’t venture there again in a hurry.

This latest novel by Rosanna Ley stars Faye, a newly graduated interior designer. She lives in England and is 33 years old. Faye is offered a job restoring an old, rundown theatre in the fictional town of Deriu in Sardinia by some acquaintances of her old college friend, Charlotte. Faye considers this a fantastic opportunity that she must seize.

The phone call from Sardinia came at the perfect time for Faye. Serendipity, she thought. She’d never been to the island but it sounded like her idea of paradise.

Faye soon learns that not all is as it seems on the island. There is a dispute with respect to the ownership of the theatre. There are also other locals who are unimpressed that an outsider has been invited into their tight-knit community to change things. Plus, some individuals insist on maintaining the status quo, no matter what.

Charlotte nodded. ‘But…’ She hesitated. ‘Let’s just say there’s been a bit of a dispute.’
‘A dispute?’ Faye mentally added this to the list of words that wouldn’t have persuaded her to come here. ‘About what?’
‘About the ownership.’
Faye stared at her. ‘So your friends might not own it at all?’
‘It’s complicated, Faye.’ Charlotte put a slim hand on her arm.
‘This isn’t England. Some things – like property deeds, for example – aren’t as black and white here in Sardinia. They’re more a murky grey.’

Ley dedicates a lot of this novel to toing and froing between the issues regarding the theatre’s ownership, the opinions of the locals, and the interior minds of the central characters. This is often coupled with text that is dense and overly descriptive. The detailed prose can be good at helping to provide nuance and lend authenticity to the scene (especially with respect to the local food and the occasional use of some Sardinian words) but at other times the writing is simply too repetitive and tedious for its own good.

He was young. He’d felt trapped. He had been bloody trapped. But Molly was a good wife and it hadn’t been so difficult to throw himself back into work, into his golf and his tennis. Best of all had been watching Faye grow into an adorable toddler, a little blonde charm-machine with his eyes, his hair, his build and Molly’s wide, beaming smile.

The pacing of this novel is very slow and not a lot actually happens in the more than 450 pages here. This could be in keeping with the breezy, island setting, but it is rather frustrating for the reader to consume. This book’s other main plotline involves a rough patch in the marriage of Faye’s parents, Ade and Molly. This doesn’t add a great deal to the overall story and seems to be rather easily resolved in time. This sub-plot also allows Ley to pose far too many unnecessary rhetorical questions for her characters like:

That was what happened, Ade thought now, when you allowed your life to become too polite, too domestic. That was what happened when you stopped seeing, stopped listening; it was what happened when you started leading separate lives.
When had they last made love? Ade couldn’t remember. When had they last shared a candlelit dinner and talked, really talked? When had they last walked along the beach together? Held each other, looked into each other’s eyes? How did that happen? How did a couple forget to do these things? How did they lose each other this way? How the hell did they fall so easily out of love?

The cover of this book suggests a bright and sunny story but there are some sinister secrets and lies that are told here by some of the characters. This is intriguing stuff but Ley takes too long in her text to reveal these hidden things. This novel could have been a fabulous look at the arts and culture of Sardinia along with some colourful characters, but instead it is long and predictable and spends too much time wallowing in some what-ifs rather than actually creating compelling actions and experiences for the characters.

The Little Theatre by the Sea is ultimately an easy read because it’s simple enough to follow. It’s something you could imagine consuming on some extended, sunny afternoons, but it is also a tale that leave a lot to be desired from this particular island getaway.

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

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