RESTORATION is an elegantly constructed work of fiction, seamlessly moving between the past and the present, but what makes Olafsson’s novel so compelling is his empathy and compassion for Alice Orsini, a woman trying to redeem her life in a country ravaged by war.
An elegant meditation on the interplay among politics, aesthetics, and personal ethics. It’s also a surprisingly moving story about two women, each of whom struggles with grief and guilt as she navigates life during wartime….Gently paced [and] satisfying.
[Olaf’s] literary skills bring Restoration to life on a windy Tuscan hilltop north of Florence...[and] shows the reader the permutations of love betrayed, and the enormous losses that war will claim.
With a backdrop of the ravages of WWII, particularly as they affect the civilian population, Olafsson casts a keen eye on Germany’s wartime acquisition of artistic masterpieces. A beautifully written literary novel of love, betrayal, reconciliation, and art.
Much of Olafsson's fiction (Valentines; Absolution; Walking into the Night) focuses on lives shattered by doomed love affairs, and in this beautifully realized novel of love and betrayal in Tuscany and Rome during the closing months of World War II, he maintains that focus to powerful effect. At its center are two intelligent women whose lives become tragically intertwined during the war. Alice Orsini, an affluent Englishwoman married to the son of an Italian landowner, recklessly begins an affair with a childhood friend. Kristin Jonsdottir, who shows up injured on Alice's property, is a young, impressionable art student in love with a powerful art dealer who's selling Italian masterpieces to the Nazis. Both women have knowledge of a valuable Caravaggio painting being sought by high-ranking officers in the Allied and the German armies. And both are ruined not by the war but by destructive love affairs. VERDICT Olafsson masterfully portrays the interior lives of these women, creating a richly complex portrait of love and passion at work even as his harrowing depictions of daily life in war-torn Italy add additional depth and power to the novel. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of literary and historical fiction.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
A soap-opera romance set against a dramatic backdrop of war, art and the hills of Tuscany, from Olafsson (Valentines, 2007, etc.), a top executive at Time Warner. "Nothing had happened yet, but she knew it was going to happen and she was sure that he knew too," reflects a pivotal character on the verge of an affair. And so it happens. At least twice. The intersecting plotlines of two different affairs--and the relationship sparked between two women of different generations and nationalities--provide the complications which this novel resolves in a manner that may not satisfy readers devoted to the genre of historical romance. The title also has multiple references. Toward the end of World War II, a young British woman from a wealthy family, living in Italy, marries an Italian landowner whom her family rejects as beneath her. While searching for a place to settle, she discovers a Tuscan villa in dire need of repair, deemed uninhabitable, and she and her husband begin to restore it. She subsequently has a baby and an affair, and soon it's her crumbling marriage that is in need of restoration. Meanwhile, a young apprentice painter from Iceland finds work restoring classic canvases from earlier centuries, which the sinister art dealer with whom she's having an affair sells to the Germans. Ultimately, both women as well as a painting of questionable origin come together at the restored Tuscan villa, which has become something of a haven for children and others escaping the war. Divided loyalties, political and marital, result in "problems [that are] trivial in the scheme of things. We can see now that the world lies in ruins." The world doesn't end, though pivotal relationships might. Though there are some quasi-literary flourishes here, the interior lives of the characters rarely rise above melodramatic cliché.
There’s a lot going on in Olafsson’s fourth novel: it’s 1944, the Allies are advancing, the Germans retreating, and the front line is moving closer to San Martino, the Tuscan estate that English-born Alice Orsini and her Italian husband have restored. But that’s not all: Alice has a guilty conscience and a dead son; her husband has disappeared; a mysterious painting is buried on her property; and she and her staff are running an orphanage and health clinic. The arrival of an Icelandic painter and art restorer should set the stage for fireworks, but doesn’t. Despite many possibilities for drama, Olafsson’s book falls flat. Alice brings her husband up to date via her diary entries, and an omniscient narrator informs us of everything else, none of it with much flair. The prose is rooted in exposition and explanation, and clichés abound. Olafsson, an executive v-p at Time Warner, based Alice on Iris Origo, an aristocratic Englishwoman married to an Italian whose account of staving off the Germans while sheltering orphans and Allied soldiers at her Tuscan villa was published as War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943–1944. By the time the fighting heats up and the plot strands all coalesce, the stake that readers should have in the fates of these characters just isn’t there. (Feb.)