I’ve really been getting into the works of Sandi Toksvig recently. A while back I saw her fantastic play ‘Bully Boy‘ which was drama about PTSD and returning servicemen and women, but it also had some really wry observations and humour in it and I wondered why I’d not quite realised that Sandi was not merely a panel show favourite. There has also been recently on Sky Arts a series called ‘Playhouse Presents’ in which Sandi contributed a play called ‘The Man‘, about a shady organisation who look at the world’s problem and try to solve them – even if that means planning a coup here and an economic collapse there. Again this was thought-provoking stuff, but with an edge of humour to it that made it really appealing.
So, I’m now totally off the subject, but my point was that I happened by chance to pick up a copy of her book, Melted Into Air, in a charity shop without really realising she was an author too, and was really glad that I did.
Melted into Air is about Theatre Director Frances Angel, who now lives in London and, after a successful career has found herself producing the most dreadful plays of her life after being dumped by her narcissistic actor boyfriend. There are also big questions in Frances’ past which see her return to Montecastello, the charming Italian village in which she was born. Although she’s now lapsed, Frances still harbours her Catholic guilt about the little remembers of her former life and her fear of the local priest, Father Benito.
As the story unfolds, we realise that this is actually more of a mystery novel than the Italianate chick-lit book it appears from the cover, as Frances attempts to make sense of the few memories she has of her time in Montecastello and why she was spirited away to England, later to find her parents were dead.
As Montecastello has few hotels, Frances has to stay at the former home of her school friend which has now been turned into an Artists’ retreat, so many of the characters here are warm, eccentric and hilarious and each plays a part in Frances’ final run in with the elderly priest, where she does what she does best – puts on a damn good show.
I think part of the reason I loved this book is that whenever something was described, a person or what they were doing, I could hear it in my head as read by Sandi Toksvig. The descriptions of some of the artists, for example, are so detailed, piling eccentricity onto eccentricity, but it’s never over the top. With the excellent cast of characters and their foibles, it’s easy to miss that the book is a very cleverly crafted mystery which unfolds at a good pace, finally allowing Frances to tell the missing pieces of the story and then resolving itself in a good but unexpected way. I’d be very keen after reading this to read some of Sandi’s other novels as this really was a very welcome find!