In the second novel by the author of Catalina (2017), middle-aged Cilla travels to Rome to care for Hannah, her recently deceased sister's teenage daughter. But when Cilla ends up in an affair with Hannah's teenage crush, Donato, all of their lives turn toward disaster.
... we are watching a woman unravel, and Jacobs does an incredible job of painting an achingly true portrait of what that’s like ... Watching Cilla careen into more bad choices is the naughty fun of this book, and Jacobs nails the slow burn as tension builds first between the lovers and then between the lovers and the world. Their forbidden, sexy rendezvous make for a gripping arc ... Jacobs is adept at guiding us through a pungent, breathtaking Italy ... While hefty portions of backstory chop up the drama in a way that makes for a bumpy ride, they are also masterfully constructed, building upon themselves over time to form a satisfying under-layer of history that illuminates why Cilla is the way she is. Jacobs is particularly smart about how and when new details are doled out. Still, there is the sense while reading the historical bits that we are doing it out of a sense of duty to Cilla, who’s drawn so well. There is also, perhaps, the desire that they be shorter, because it’s the Notes On A Scandal–esque romance we want to get back to ... Descriptions of Donato’s young body are horribly dazzling. Jacobs does not shy away from a sex scene, which, in a book like this, is a good idea ... the concept of trauma and the identity of Cilla as a survivor are barely given a nod, and this seems like a missed opportunity ... Instead of focusing on this rich role reversal, with or without Cilla’s full consciousness of it, the text draws us back instead to the haunting of Emily. This might work better if Emily, though dead, felt more alive on the page. And it might work better, too, if Cilla came to understand that her memories of Emily are faulty, and still seen through the scrim of petty adolescence. Cilla spends a great deal of this book recounting memories she does not question. It feels like watching someone go to endless therapy sessions and emerge untreated ... The action moments at the end are wonderfully surprising and a pleasure to read. Then, in the very last sentences, we take a quick swerve back inside Cilla’s mind for a final epiphany, which dutifully braids the elements of this plot together, but perhaps not with the strands we most care about.
As in her stylish debut, Catalina (2017), Jacobs sets her narrator on a dark psychological journey in sweltering, sun-bleached locales ... Cilla behaves in the reckless way of the truly addicted. The below-the-surface story here is of Cilla’s losses: her father, her sister, and a never-realized marriage to her much-older longtime lover, Guy ... Darkly compelling and even better than Catalina.
... overloaded, slow-to-start ... It’s a mystery why 15-year-old Hannah and her dad, Paul, feel as much affection for her as they do; likewise why people Cilla meets are immediately drawn to her. It’s odd not so much because she’s bitter and self-pitying, though she is, but because she’s not very interesting company ... rich material, yet Jacobs never settles on a tone for what is in effect a travelogue about sex, death, and cycles of abuse. Some main themes and principal characters feel underdeveloped, while the copious descriptions of Rome are blandly touristy ... For such a slender book, it’s overstuffed with ideas. It might have done better streamlined into a novella or expanded into a deeper, more ambitious novel.