This was very gratefully received as an ARC from Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I requested it as I love historical fiction and 1930s Europe is one of my particular areas of interest. I have studied and taught Mussolini’s Italy a little but not read many novels set then/ there so I was keen to give this a try.
In Love and War starts with the main character, Esmond Lowndes, on a plane to Florence being waved off by his parents, both enthusiastic members of the Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. Lowndes is in disgrace after his parents discovery of a homosexual affair at Cambridge and has been sent to set up a radio station in Italy designed to promote fascism and bring Britain and Mussolini’s new state together. As war creeps closer Esmond becomes increasingly disillusioned with fascism and starts to develop relationships with a group of anti-fascists.
I would say for me this is a book of two halves, or rather a book of 2/3s to 1/3. I really didn’t enjoy the first 60% or so. The overly sympathetic portrayal of the BUF, the lack of criticism of a character who is, quite frankly, a predatory paedophile, overlong history of Art lessons and oddly passionless, clunky sex scenes left me cold. However, once the war is properly underway and then Mussolini has fallen from power it picks up in both pace and intensity. I didn’t particularly like Esmond but I was interested in his arc from semi-reluctant fascist to member of the resistance. The mindless everyday violence of the regime is well portrayed, too.
2.5 stars (3 if I’m being particularly generous, and for Goodreads which doesn’t allow halves!)