Set in Italy in the 1800s, the story is about the contessa Carolina slowly losing her sight. She tells her husband Pietro before their wedding but he doesn’t believe her. Neither do her parents. The only person who takes her seriously is her childhood friend, the quirky inventor Turri. He invents a writing machine—a prototype for the typewriter—so she can still send notes to her friends and family. The gift triggers a love affair that doesn’t end the way we’d like but perhaps the only way it could.
The 206-page novel’s plot may be slight but the characters have emotional weight. Carolina is quite an independent girl for her time and accepts her plight with an admirable lack of self-pity. Turri is a singular character, not overtly romantic but sweet in his reticent ways. Pietro, however, starts out dashing but ends up rather hypocritical.
Wallace doesn’t need a lot of pages to impress with eloquent language that reminds us of the beauty that surrounds us every day. The following describes Carolina’s joy from getting a custom-made dress when she’s six year old:
When the gown was complete, three days before the party, Carolina worried that she might die of joy. The old woman hung it on her wardrobe, where it shone in the morning sun like a piece of the sky. For those three nights, Carolina slept only fitfully. Often she crept out of bed to make certain by touch that the gown was still there and that she was not being misinformed by her dreams.
Though no longer a little girl, I suddenly wanted a dress just like that.
When Carolina could no longer see beautiful things, Wallace makes us feel the loss, but she also makes us grateful we can still experience the pleasure of a good book.