Novel Suggestions Rotating Header Image

Last Train From Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey

Last Train From Liguria by Christine Dwyer HickeyFor the life of me, I simply cannot remember where I picked up the recommendation to read Christine Dwyer Hickey’s novel Last Train From Liguria but a big thank you to whoever it was. I suppose it is an indication of the depth of talent that is out there, but it always amazes me slightly to come across someone who writes as well as this, who already has a back catalogue of four or five novels, and yet you have simply not heard of them before. All I can say is long may it remain that way, as finding new authors to delve into is what keeps the reading life fresh and unpredictable – a change is as good as a rest so they say.

Read on for a full review…

-- Last Train From Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey a Review by Des Greene --

Last Train From Liguria is a real slow builder of a novel, at least half of the the book is spent fleshing out the lives of the characters and their pasts, but also in stepping forward to the present day to give us the effects and ramifications of those pasts. That slow build is also used to great effect in allowing the reader to witness the insidious creep of fascism through Europe prior to the Second World War, and to show some of the many ways in which people dealt with this; going with the flow in self preservation, or burying their heads and trying not to see what was approaching.

Some powerful subtexts then, to underpin a story that largely centres around a rather unassuming and naive young lady called Bella, who it seems, is sent to Italy by her father largely to get her out of the way so he can woo his second wife after the death of Bella’s mother. The position she adopts with the wealthy Jewish Italian Lami family, is somewhat ambiguous but eventually amounts to a cross between governess and surrogate mother to a young boy called Alec. This role develops because Alec’s mother is a largely absent controlling hand, spending much of her time either at the family’s main home or travelling Europe, whilst Bella takes on an ever increasing role in the boy’s upbringing.

Bella leads a rather idyllic lifestyle in the Lami’s large summer residence in Liguria, in the company of Alec, the domestic staff, and Alec’s live-in piano tutor Edward. It is this idyll, and the contrast which it presents to the changing events around them, that makes this novel succeed for me. Of course this is backed up by Hickey’s rather captivating writing style, which not only evokes the tone of pre-war upper class society so well, it also shifts to deliver the more modern sections in an equally believable tone.

It is in the modern age that the novel is drawn to its conclusion in the storyline of Bella’s granddaughter Anna. I found it gave just enough information to tie everything together without leaving me dissatisfied, but with enough doubt left in Anna’s mind for it to be realistic, and to create some final tension. After all, war and the passage of time would rarely allow us to trace even the simplest of histories with one hundred percent certainty, and this family history is far from simple.

In order to refrain from spoiling the plot, I have barely scratched the surface in this review, but there are many facets in this novel that combine to form a rather satisfying whole. Family issues, the evils of war and fascism, religious intolerance, religious tolerance, tragedy and an undercurrent of romance, all packaged in a well-balanced, stylishly written and very readable story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Already read Last Train From Liguria? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

Novel Suggestions only provides fiction book reviews of books that we personally recommend. We don’t spend our valuable time writing reviews of books which we feel would be a waste of your valuable time!


  1. Sarah says:

    Just read it – loved it. The author has lovely prose that speaks volumes, and I discovered towards the end of the book that she had been alternating between present and past tense seamlessly. I agree with everything you say, esp. the no-100% certainty. I also happen to like “parallel narrative” or “dual storyline” books.

    1. Des says:

      Hi Sarah, great to hear that you also enjoyed this book so much. Thanks for leaving your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *