Book Review: The Rome Affair


The glamorous capital city of Italy is brought to startling life in The Rome Affair, a compelling summer novel by Karen Swan.

1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can’t change it.

2017 and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza – famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.

Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life.



I’ve been looking to read books set in Italy this year, and I’m loving this country more and more. Where else can you get the delights of fantastic food, la dolce vita, romance and ancient history? Karen Swan introduces the reader to the modern Roman life in The Rome Affair through the eyes of Cesca, transplanted from London with a determination for an easier life. She’s a fun heroine to read about, with impassioned principles, a talent for detail and a vintage wardrobe that could be classed as odd or quirky. It’s the kind of read that makes you want to actively seek reading time just so you can learn more about the characters and the mystery surrounding them!

Cesca hides a secret as she pounds the pavement as a tourist guide – one that made her desert her career and leave England. She doesn’t want to talk about it, she just wants to move on. Life in Rome is tight moneywise, but oh so wonderful when it comes to friends and food. (There are quite a few descriptions of lovely Italian meals – from pasta to gelato). But emptying her rubbish one night, she finds a designer handbag in the bin. Looking through it for identifying signs of the owner, she finds an envelope addressed to ‘Elena’. Elena turns out to be no less than the principessa of the enormous palazzo across the square. Cesca’s first meeting with Elena has her intrigued, but her neighbours tell her to stay away. Unfortunately Cesca has no choice but to become Elena’s biographer after she loses her job. At first, it’s enjoyable as she sifts through photographs and memories of the young Laney Valentine, luckiest little girl in America. But how did Laney become Elena and what secrets is Elena hiding as she tries to rewrite history? Meanwhile, there’s plenty to keep Cesca entertained with a sinkhole and her love-hate relationship with Nico…

If I had to describe The Rome Affair in a single word, it would be captivating. The plot is thick with lies, secrets, misunderstandings, wealth, romance and mystery. There are so many secrets and lies, but it’s not difficult to keep track of them thanks to the way the story is told from Cesca’s point of view in the present and Elena’s stories of the (real) past. There’s a lot of contrast between the stories Elena tells Cesca and what really happened. At first, I felt sorry for Elena, then I gradually came to wonder how much I really liked Elena’s character. Her past really doesn’t hide anything! But the events of the finale made me realise that underneath it all, she did have a heart. Was she a victim or a champion of survival?

The mysteries of the palazzo were also entertaining. Who wouldn’t love to find a secret tunnel or wander through a 1000-room house? I loved Cesca’s take on it, as it was all so awe inspiring but she kept her head about it. Her principles too were something that drew me to her as the heroine – no matter how painful it was, she would draw out the truth. I felt that I could trust her more than I ever could Elena!

If you’re after a well written story with never a dull moment, please check out The Rome Affair! It’s the perfect read with a gelato or pizza! 5/5 Stars!


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