Vesna runs climbing tours at a local resort when she isn’t working on her Ph.D. A bad fall early in her life seems to have caused lifelong issues with feeling safe. Making her body strong and confident helps some with the horrible nightmares and anxiety caused by the dreams and by any sexual intimacy. She is sent by her advisor to Rome for insight into her thesis, and meets a gorgeous art restorer.
Instantly drawn to the strong young woman, Rafaella helps Vesna with her study of women Renaissance painter. When their relationship becomes intimate, they must work together to solve Vesna’s issues.
In 1912 Sarajevo, Olga is a nurse in training. Her boyfriend Gav increasingly causes her more grief than happiness, but a mysterious patient at the hospital changes her life forever.
There are two very different stories at play in the book, concerning two very different women. Still, it would have been easy to confuse Vesna and Olga without the author using the device of diary entries, and devoting whole chapters to those. Olga’s story is compelling enough to easily carry a novel of her own, and a lengthy setup of how her story coincides with Vesna’s created a strong and satisfying finish.
Sections of the setup had a college lecture feel, especially on the subject of art history and Vesna’s approach to her Ph.D. work. I pulled out my phone fairly often to check how close to real science some of the passages are and found myself reading some very interesting theories. The same thing happened with Vesna’s roommate, neuroscience student Sophie, and the history behind Olga’s story. I can’t speak for everyone, but I like being challenged in that way as a reader.
Pros And My Favourite Parts
This book is like baklava, there are so many layers. For instance, something I didn’t pay much attention to as I started reading is the book’s cover. When I finished reading I took a closer look and was suddenly very intrigued, and wondered if it’s an actual old photo that inspired the author to spin a story around it, or a really good recreation of a scene from the book? This bit of twisting reality to create a good story, like the use of real science and history that permeates the romances, adds a fun layer to the book’s central mystery.
Vesna’s anxiety is fairly severe, and absolutely affects both her everyday life and her ability to have a solid romantic relationship. I don’t remember reading before about a character whose anxiety manifests that way, making her unique and creating a tough challenge for Vesna and Rafaella to overcome. The way they did it had me heading off to google yet again. I learned a lot reading this book, and that always makes me happy.
More than one of the characters is based on historical people. I guessed one of them fairly early because I’m a history nerd, but the other simply floored me. Their portrayal in the book is sympathetic and ended in a much better way than in real life. The constant mixing of real history and fiction is always a tricky business, and I feel it’s well done in this book.
Serbia in the early 20th century was a hotbed of political radicalism. One of the characters is very fanatical.
Vesna is a Ph.D. student who teaches rock climbing on the side, and has a radical idea about Renaissance era women artists that borrows from cutting edge neuroscience. When she is sent to Rome to consult with an art restorer, the attraction between her and Rafaella is immediate, but they must somehow overcome Vesna’s serious anxiety that is always triggered by intimacy.
A hundred years earlier, in a part of Europe that became the epicenter of a war ravaged world, Olga begins to keep a diary about her life as a nursing student. Her boyfriend is increasingly distant to her, but her life is changed forever after meeting the mysterious new patient on the ward.
There is a lot of history, not a little of it drawn closely from real events and actual people. The author weaves that history, a radical discussion of art history that includes an interesting neurological phenomenon, and a mystical therapy to create a book with many layers.
Excerpt from The Lilith Gene by M. Cassol
“Please, call me Rafaella. Signora Guaritore is my mother.” Rafaella held out her hand. “You must be Vesna.”Her heart-shaped lips opened into a warm smile.
“Nice to meet you, Rafaella. Thank you so much for seeing me. I can’t begin to tell you how interesting your work is,” Vesna said, immediately noticing the accelerated rate of her speech, a typical feature of her voice when she was anxious.
“Please take a seat. Do you mind if I continue working while we talk?” Rafaella said, taking a seat on the wooden bench in front of the humongous painting she was restoring, and pointing to a comfortable red chaise lounge for Vesna.
“Not at all! It’s fascinating. I could spend the whole day here looking at you –” Vesna hesitated and quickly added, “– working.” She hoped Rafaella hadn’t noticed. “What an amazing place you have here. What was this building before? The vaults below the amphitheater?”
“Brava!” Rafaella nodded. “How long have you lived in Lucca?”
“Just over a year now.”
“Have you been to the catacombs yet?”
“No. Not yet. The catacombs are privately owned, and I’d need permission.”
“Now you have it.” Rafaella winked.
“Oh! So, this is part of the underground complex?”
“Indeed. This is the entrance to the underground chambers. It used to house the cells for the gladiators and was made into a prison in medieval times. But it’s belonged to my family for generation. I use the vaults for a better reason nowadays – storing wine.”
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 978-1-912562-88-6
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
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