The unforgettable stories of two women crossing centuries as past and present weave together in this beautifully moving summer read.
2017: Millie wants more from her relationship and more from her life. So when her boss Max abruptly ends their affair, she takes the opportunity to write a feature in Italy.
Staying in a gorgeous villa, Millie unexpectedly falls in love with the owner, Lorenzo. Together they begin to unravel an incredible story, threaded through generations of silk weavers.
And Millie finds herself compelled to discover the identity of a mysterious woman in a portrait…
1704: Anastasia is desperate to escape her controlling and volatile father and plans to marry in secret. But instead of the life she has dreamed of, she finds herself trapped in Venice, the unwilling wife of a silk weaver.
Despite her circumstances, Anastasia is determined to change her fate…
As he left her for the night, locking the door behind him, Anastasia felt her heart quicken. She lay on the bed, a solitary candle flickering beside her, casting shadows around the room that formed the boundaries of her world. The light reflected in the myriad of tiny panes of glass in the casement window overlooking the Grand Canal, scattering beams of light, like fireflies, around the room. The iron bars that had been fitted over the windows were a constant reminder of her incarceration. She had been imprisoned in this room in Venice for so long and had endured his nightly assaults – until tonight, when she had set in motion a train of events that once begun could not be undone. If she failed, or weakened at any time over the next few days, she feared she would be trapped here, forced to submit to Anzolo, for ever. It was vital that she delayed any visit from a doctor for as long as possible. Locked in her airless bedchamber, she was as helpless as ever. What she needed to do now was persuade her husband that she should be allowed to leave this room.
Then, and only then, would she have a chance to escape.
Villa di Bozzolo, near Verona, Italy
She wakes. Sun is stealing round the edges of the darkened shutters, channelling the light into a sharp laser-like beam that highlights the knots and nail heads of the stained-oak floor. She pulls herself up in the large bed, leaning against the unyielding carved headboard, momentarily confused. There is an unfamiliar smell: slightly musty, overlaid with beeswax polish. She runs her fingers over the white linen sheets – they are old, not yet threadbare, but soft.
The last time she had lain in a large bed in soft, white sheets in Italy he had been there with her. They had gone to Florence to celebrate her birthday. She had reached out to him but he had turned his back. She had watched as the muscles that ran along either side of his spine flexed at her touch.
‘Don’t what?’ she’d asked, not yet understanding.
‘You know. This. It’s over. You must see that.’
She had lain silently then, hardly daring to breathe; the marks left by her fingernails just a few moments before, as she climaxed, were developing into red weals near his shoulder blades. Perhaps, she thought, if I don’t say anything we can both forget what he just said. We can get up in a moment and go out into the sunshine. We can sit at our favourite cafe and I can order us coffee just how he likes it – strong and short, with a little pasticceria that I will dip into my milky latte. We will wander round the market, or along the banks of the Arno. Later, we will come back to our white bed and make love again before falling gently asleep. I will listen to his breathing as it becomes even and I will lay my hand on his thigh. It will comfort me as I too slip into sleep. We will wake as the sun sinks low in the sky, take a shower, and I will put on the dress he likes – the coral linen that I bought in the market yesterday; the dress he says makes me look like a ray of sunshine. I will brush my dark auburn hair and twist it into a chignon and he will kiss my neck.
He turns finally to look at her. His eyes are cool pools of water.
‘Well?’ He sounds irritated. As if this is an editorial meeting he is chairing back at their offices in London and he is waiting for a verdict from one of his best journalists on an idea he has just floated. She almost expects him to say: ‘Will it fly? What do you think, Millie?’
‘What do you want me to say, Max? Why is it over?’ She is trying to stay in control. She won’t cry, won’t beg. He wouldn’t like that; won’t respect her for it – better to challenge a little, as she would with a story.
‘Isn’t it obvious? I can’t keep lying to Katje. She sent me a text this morning, wishing me a great day. It’s just wrong, Mills. You know that.’
‘Wrong for who?’ Millie says, bridling slightly at the use of this most private of diminutives – only Max and her brother Freddie ever call her ‘Mills’. To use it now seems like a further betrayal.
‘You, me, Katje, the kids.’
This was a low blow. At thirty-eight, Millie, with no children of her own, tried hard to excise Max’s kids from her mind. He had already acquired two families: three boys – all grown men now, from his first marriage to ‘Lady’ Jane, and two ‘adorable’ blonde girls with Katje. Any mention of them was out of bounds for Millie. He knew that. She had laid it out for him fair and square when they began their affair six years earlier, as he nuzzled her neck in the taxi after the awards ceremony where he had taken his team and finally made his move.
‘I like you, Max, I really do, but anytime you bring your wife and family into our relationship it’s over – OK?’ He – a little drunk, randy, intoxicated by his star reporter and the award she had just won for ‘best feature’, would have promised her anything to get into her bed that night.
And so it had begun…
I've read and enjoyed both Debbie Rix's previous books, so when I was offered an ARC of her newest one 'The Silk Weaver's Wife' by the publisher, I couldn't wait to start reading it.
As in her other books, the author's beautiful, evocative prose and vivid descriptions have swept me off my feet and taken me on a mesmerising unforgettable journey back in time, bringing locations and characters from a bygone era back to life in stunning vivid colour.
Told over two different lifetimes, the story revolves around two women, three centuries apart but bound together by an ancient trade and a land of divine art, architecture, culture and wine... Italy.
"There is no escape for you Anastasia."
Veneto, early 1700s. Young Anastasia Balzarelli is forcibly married by her father to a rich silk weaver against her will. She's taken to his house in Venice and imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom overlooking the magnificent Grand Canal, where she's forced to endure her husband's abuse and cry for her true love, Marco. With no hope of getting out of there and nothing else to do, she spends her long days practicing her talent of painting and drawing. She's trapped inside her room like a silkworm in its cocoon. Will she ever be able to metamorphose like the moths she paints and fly away from her desperate situation?
UK and Italy, present day. Escaping from an unhappy love affair, Millie, a journalist, is sent to Italy to write a report on the regeneration of the silk industry in the Veneto region. There she stays in a beautiful old country villa. Lorenzo, the owner, is a charming widower with a young girl, who's more than happy to show her around the silk farm, explaining the process of silk production and the whole weaving process. There Millie feels at peace and calm. An old portrait at the villa showing a girl in a room overlooking Venice catches Millie's attention and intrigues her. Who was that girl? And what's her connection to the villa? No one knows, but Millie is determined to find out.
Well Debbie Rix has done it again. She has written a beautiful story that I found interesting, intriguing and gut-wrenching at the same time. It is an enchanting journey into the ancient tradition of silk-weaving. A story featuring some real historical characters and in which fiction is exquisitely and intrinsically weaved around true facts. Even though chapters alternate between past and present, the story is never confusing.
All characters are very true to life and the dialogue realistic. I could feel their anguish, pain and terror, but also their hope, love and determination. My heart went out to Anastasia. I really wanted her to be all right and wished she could escape her husband's clutches and live a happy life.
It's evident that a lot of research was required to write this book. Through her characters and storylines, the author gives an in-depth account about the history of the silk industry and the delicate silk-manufacturing process and how it has changed over the centuries. I was so interested that I ended up googling some of the characters and even 'silk-weaving' to learn more.
A couple of years ago I visited Verona, Venice and Lake Garda, the area where this story is set, and reading this book I was transported back to this enchanting part of Italy. Through her prose, the author paints a living, breathing picture of that region as it was in the past and as it is now. It was as if I was there. I could clearly visualise the lake shimmering in the sun, the gondolas and galleons going up and down the Grand Canal in Venice and Villa di Bozzolo with its outbuildings and vineyards stretching far into the distance.
Art, nature, history and love are the main pillars of this brilliant story. If you, like me, love good, well-balanced historical fiction novels based on true facts, then I highly recommend 'The Silk Weaver's Wife'.
With thanks to Bookouture for approving my request to read and review this book through Netgalley.
Debbie Rix has written three novels. Her debut 'The Girl with Emerald Eyes' (formerly published as 'Secrets of The Tower'), reached the No.1 spot in Amazon's Italian category. Set amidst the world of medieval Italy, it explores the creation of the most famous building in the world - the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Her second novel - 'Daughters of the Silk Road' topped the historical fiction charts, reaching No.1 in Italian, Women's fiction and Mystery, Thriller & Suspense; it spent many weeks in the top 100 best selling lists. It follows the fortunes of a family of merchant explorers who bring a Ming vase back to Venice from China in 15th century. Her third novel 'The Silk Weaver's Wife' is published on July 19th 2017 and is available now for pre-order. Debbie spends a lot of time in Italy and the setting of the novels reflects her knowledge and passion for the country. She is currently researching her fourth novel set in Rome and Sardinia.
Debbie lives in the Kent countryside with her journalist husband, children, sheep, chickens and cats. When not writing, she is usually to be found in the vegetable garden. She began her career with the BBC- initially as the news reader on Breakfast Time, thereafter appearing as a presenter and reporter on a variety of factual and light entertainment television series. She had a spell as an Agony Aunt, and has also written about gardens and gardening - one of her private passions.