Something is afoot at the Villa Giulia, the small Italian hotel at the center of Sarah Woodhouse's third novel, "Meeting Lily." One of the guests, Major Baghot, has died in his sleep, and his spirited widow Molly doesn't seem to be mourning; instead she happily roams the countryside. The chambermaid Graziella, a local orphan, falls in love with a young Catholic priest. And Mrs. Prescott catches the eye of Dr. Fortuno, the dashing village physician. What used to be a peaceful haven for wine tasting and siestas has become chaos. Nan Mortimer, the Villa Giulia's English innkeeper -- she opened the hotel after the death of her own husband seven years earlier -- doesn't know what to make of it.
Set in post-war Italy and written in the tradition of Elizabeth von Arnim's "Enchanted April," "Meeting Lily" is ripe with clashes of culture and tradition. While Nan struggles to hold her life -- and her household -- together, she also faces the dilemma of being "an Englishwoman among Italians," a stranger in a country she has come to think of as her own. As she becomes entangled in the lives and melodramas of her eccentric guests, she begins to realize that anything is possible -- perhaps even falling in love again.
The rich texture of this light, captivating narrative often resembles that of a Merchant-Ivory film. Woodhouse is a fine storyteller, and her soothing, sing-songy prose and lush landscape descriptions make the Villa Giulia a perfect destination -- and an excellent waiting place for the much-anticipated arrival of Lily.