by Wendy Waters
Paradis Inferno is the final chapter in Waters’ trilogy that connects brilliant but emotionally damaged pianist, Mary Ferranti, nee Granger, whom the reader met in the first book, Catch the Moon, Mary* with Samantha Tanner, granddaughter of Grace Fielders, who was the star of the second installment, Fields of Grace*.
To quell the angel Gabriel’s rampage, Mary no longer plays and instead, lives in quiet contemplation with her husband, Alfio at their vineyard in the hills overlooking Florence. But when her son, Rigel, and his wife, Samantha, place a tantalizing proposition in front of her that has echoes from the past, can Mary be convinced to lift the lid of her piano again despite the forces her music might beckon?
This last novel is dusted with the shimmering flavor of Catch the Moon, Mary, but also threads through the interpersonal drama of Fields of Grace. Notwithstanding the main narrative of Mary being persuaded to play again, all the characters, now one big blended family, complete their journeys in sweetly satisfying ways. It could, in a lesser writer’s hands have been a touch syrupy but it works marvelously.
Indeed, Waters’ expansive prose is so magically descriptive and poetically beautiful without being indulgent that some lines you have to read twice to absorb their impact. The opening is a truly lovely piece of writing; to embark on a Waters novel is akin to falling softly onto a featherbed.
Waters also has an unrivaled sense of place and uses her locations, and their climates to gloriously sensory and chromatic effect, suffusing and complementing the story.
Paradis Inferno is heavier with dialogue than the previous books and Waters has a real ear for individuality in this regard. The scenes set over Christmas 2016 were effortlessly natural yet realistically tense with sub-text and weighted with unspoken emotion.
So, to the story. Mary, in her maturity, has believably developed her single-mindedness and introspection. She is occasionally frustrating, especially in her dealings with her husband, Alfio, who could have been a slightly pathetic figure but he has a keen awareness and self-deprecation that ensures likability.
Both Jennifer and Jonathan’s character arcs are neatly credible but also shrewdly leave a little to the reader’s imagination and Mary’s mother, Kathleen, is further to fore; amusing, waspish, and more astute than she lets on. The dynamic between her and Nonno provided humor as well as the knowing insight that comes with age, gently diluting the urgency of the younger personalities.
Sam and Rigel balance each other and the narrative excellently. Rigel supplies pragmatism, patience, and philosophy to those around him whose heads are often in the clouds, literally. His preoccupation with the practicalities of staging the amphitheatre concerts and allaying Sam’s fears provide a nice contrast to the otherworldly shenanigans.
It would have been easy, and expected, for Mary’s return to music to have simply summoned a re-run of Gabriel but instead, Waters brings us Stanas Vedil and she has a lot of fun with him. Written in the first person, he is a complex, somewhat tragic figure, who gifts the reader with some comic moments tempered with poignancy. The scenes with Lion, the mouse, could have been misplaced but instead, ache with pathos.
The novel is cleverly structured and although it moves back and forth through decades and continents, it never feels confusing or busy but instead consolidates with a brush of foreshadowing and backstory. Waters expertly judges the pace with a buoyant confidence that is infectious to read.
But, beneath the intricacy and allegory is the driving motif of Mary’s piano-playing; and, like a movement of music, Waters ensures that the story of Mary, Gabriel, Sam, et al, swells to a worthy crescendo with a truly captivating ending that still allows the reader room for reflection.
In Paradis Inferno Waters has produced a triumphant and mesmerizing conclusion to the spellbinding and entertaining earlier novels and an absolute tribute to the wonderfully colorful and convincing cast she has created and whom I suspect she will still walk among for some time.
*Click here for my review of Fields of Grace
*Click here for my review of Catch the Moon, Mary