In her follow-up to A House Near Luccoli author D.M. Denton takes readers back to 17th century Europe, moving the story of impassioned young spinster Donatella from Stradella’s Genoa to the England of Henry Purcell.
One instantly remarkable element of D.M. Denton’s fiction is her unique blending of history and fiction; such was the backdrop for her 2012 novel, A House Near Luccoli, which introduced a memorable fictional protagonist – Donatella – to one of Italy’s most enigmatic composers, the roguish Alessandro Stradella. This strength of Denton’s is played upon in Luccoli’s sequel novel, To a Strange Somewhere Fled, which finds a heartbroken Donatella amid a cast of decidedly English characters plucked with utmost authenticity from the resonance of history. After tragedy struck in Genoa, Donatella joins her family in her father’s native England, trading the majesty of the Mediterranean for the unruly weather and unusual society of Oxfordshire. Despondent and bereft, Donatella suffers renewed sadness as she comes to terms with her new life as a foreigner in a strange land, struggling to replace her native Italian with the confusing language of the English and ultimately learning to adapt to their ways.
Even as Donatella is haunted by the memory of Stradella – whose charming and often mischievous presence seems to have followed her, along with several never-performed copies of his compositions, to England – the determined heroine, expecting to resign herself once more to spinsterhood, finds unexpected emotions and, gradually, a new adventure awaiting her. From neighbors charming and catastrophic to an invasion of Italian musical greats, and even an appearance by the celebrated Henry Purcell, Donatella is soon buoyed between her own grief and the alluring, irrepressible pull of creativity. Almost all of the immediate characters in the story, with the exception of Donatella’s family and one or two others, are rooted in history, and the author shares her insights with the reader in a well-organized collection of historical notes at the back of the book. With this novel, Denton takes her fusion of history and fiction into an even deeper territory, depicting not only composers of British and Italian nationality, but also female singers and even men of law, such as the story’s male protagonist, biographer and lawyer Roger North. With sublime grace and devotion, Denton marries the two worlds together to form a setting for her novel that’s nothing short of enchanting.
Keeping true to A House Near Luccoli, much of the foundation of this novel relies heavily on music as expression. The cadences and temperaments of compositions are reflected in Denton’s pacing as well as her confidently executed freedom of narrative: some scenes that would traditionally be laid out in show-stopping dramatics may happen quietly, maybe even outside of the narrative completely; revelations are made, characters introduced, and emotions uncovered with unexpected swells and surges of expression. As a result, Denton's writing is as beautiful and complex as the music she effectively seeks to honor. And while Donatella and her story, full as it is of such a legion of colorful characters, are vastly entertaining in their own right, often Denton’s descriptions of musical performances manage to swoop in and lift the reader up to even greater heights. Her passionate research and personal love of the art both shine through in the remarkable imagery her prose evokes, enrapturing her audience and taking them just a bit deeper into the intricacies of the 17th century setting. Irrevocable in its magic and intrepid in its storytelling, To a Strange Somewhere Fled is an fascinating and delectably original work that readers won’t soon forget.