Connie is dissatisfied with village life and feels the smallness of Leyton closing in on her future, which seems to consist mainly of listening to village gossip while serving customers at Mrs Cleat’s store. This dissatisfying outlook changes with the arrival of the Onorati brothers: the swaggering entrepreneur Vittorio and taciturn artist Lucio. As the story moves between the brothers’ life in their war-torn Italian village and the post-war British community, it unveils the similarities between the two places. Life in one village mirrors the other, and hunting, gossip, religion and art are pivotal in both. Jo Riccioni creates some brilliant connective imagery in the creation of church murals and the death of animals both domestic and wild. Against the ravages of war a love story forms, subtle and gently brewing. The Onorati brothers are magnetic in their own ways. Their past is explored through the Montelupini chapters, which lay bare the perniciousness of village gossip and the horrifying impact of war on civilians. The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store is a rich debut novel. Riccioni weaves together romance and tragedy, and captures a vivid sense of history and place, in a story that is at once expansive and personal.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in Issue 4, 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.