one hundred and fifty-three

Read IN BED: Siracusa

Review by Hannah-Rose Yee

“Smoking is a reason to get up every morning. If I pass a smoker, I breathe deeply and for a second, life is better. I could spend all day scarfing other people’s nicotine, and this obsession gets in the way of, no question, in the way of just about everything. I quit cold turkey when I met Taylor thirteen years ago, which does not feel like yesterday, it feels like thirteen years ago.” – Delia Ephron, Siracusa

The Ephron sisters are a marvel. Nora is the writer and director of Sleepless in Seattle and Heartburn and, with her sister Delia, You’ve Got Mail. Delia, is the writer and humorist of Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog and the script for Love, Loss and What I Wore. Then there’s Amy, the novelist and Hallie, the critic and journalist. Imagine growing up as one of those four bright, witty sisters in the Ephron household? Just imagine.

Delia has a new novel out called Siracusa, which was released in America last year but is only hitting shelves in Australia now.

It’s about two couples and one precocious, ten-year-old girl called Snow, who decamp from their very American, very suburban lives, for the sun-drenched shores of Rome and Sicily for a holiday. Everything is nice and grand, vacations and aperol spritzes and delicious Italian food, until the secrets that each couple have been keeping from each other and between themselves start to emerge.

This book is much funnier than I anticipated, in part because of the inclusion of Snow, who, like all precocious 10-year-old characters, is a great source of humour. Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Michael and Lizzie – famous writers from New York – or Finn and Taylor – married from Maine – and I much preferred the Finn and Taylor sections, mostly because of Taylor’s very dry, very matter-of-fact narration style. I found her removed recounting of the – mild spoiler alert, but they discuss this almost at the start of the book – growing attachment between Lizzie and Finn so funny. It reminded me a lot of that line in Nora’s Heartburn about her husband being able to “have sex with a venetian blind”.

Many reviews have compared the novel to The Talented Mr Ripley but actually, with all its shifting perspectives, it’s quite similar to Lauren Groff’s fantastic Fates and Furies. (Not to be confused with The Fate of the Furious, the eighth and bloated instalment in the Fast and the Furious franchise). You get to see both sides of a relationship – in this case, four sides of two relationships – which reminds you just how varied different recollections of the same event can be. Who can you trust? Your partner? Your best friend? Maybe the only reliable narrator is a precocious 10-year-old. Poor Snow.