The Countesses of Castello book review

Easy-reading frivolity about three sisters growing up in Sardinia

Time In
Milena Agus


The faded beauty of a once-opulent Cagliari palazzo is the home to three equally neurotic, but very different sisters. Prim Noemie longs for order and the return of their lost wealth, sensual Maddalena longs for a baby and the Countess Ricotta, so-called because of her weak and clumsy hands and heart, longs to no longer fear the world. Nanny is also a resident: the countesses’ governess of old, now entrusted to their care in her old age.

A man must be brave to enter this hysterical, chaotic world of women. Salvatore, the husband of Maddalena, stays for love and for the passion they share. But the other men of the piece stay at a distance. Elias, for whom Noemie falls uncontrollably in love, seeks refuge from her desperation by tending sheep and clinging to the phantom of his youth. Carlino, Countess Ricotta’s son, longs for paternal affection, but his father, who burst into distraught tears at news of his impending parenthood, cannot bear to stick around. The closest thing Carlino has to a father is the nameless but noble neighbour, also the object of Countess Ricotta’s affections, who remains divided from her by a wall.

The tale is woven of simplicity. The caricatured characters, lack of dialogue and use of the present tense combine to create a grown-up fairytale that is pretty but pointless. It spirals around the dilapidated palazzo, hopping from the dramatic meltdown of one sister to another, but infuriatingly never going anywhere. But this, in a way, is part of its charm, as are the tasty treats that litter the pages – gnocchi, pecorino and sugary sweets tantalise, while a smattering of vespas and gossip add Sardinian charm to the easy-reading frivolity.

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