June 2023

Return to Valetto

By Dominic Smith
With Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts.
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Over the course of his career, Dominic Smith has demonstrated that his favorite playground as a writer is the past. With his sixth novel, Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t break from his successful formula but instead perfects what he did so well with his award-winning 2016 book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, delivering a charming and captivating multigenerational family drama that beautifully blends the past with the present. 

Smith whisks readers away to Valetto, Italy: a fictional, crumbling town that floats like an island in the clouds among the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside. Although the setting sounds like something out of a fairy tale, Valetto has been in steady decline, with earthquakes and other natural disasters having driven away most of its inhabitants. 

Hugh Fisher spent most of his childhood summers in Valetto, but when he returns decades later (now a historian and a grieving widower) to visit his aunts and celebrate his grandmother’s 100th birthday, the town has but 10 permanent residents—plus one unexpected new addition. The stone cottage that Hugh’s late mother bequeathed him has been claimed by an inscrutable woman named Elisa Tomassi, who insists that Hugh’s grandfather promised her family the cottage as a show of gratitude for sheltering him while he fought in World War II. As Hugh attempts to validate Elisa’s claims, his forays into the past uncover a terrible secret involving both his and Elisa’s mothers. It’s a bombshell that, once detonated, reverberates across generations and will have consequences that are felt far beyond the walls of Valetto.

With Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts. The writing is both accessible and evocative, the pace leisurely yet suspenseful, the characters and plot are intriguing, and the themes of grief, generational trauma and resilience are well considered. Smith has the authorial confidence to resist the urge to overcomplicate his novel, delivering a straightforward narrative with a nostalgic tone and classic style that cleverly match the subject material and setting. The result is a richly rewarding book that is imbued with a sense of timelessness. It’s an outright pleasure to read, an excellent choice for both armchair travelers looking to vicariously experience Italy’s dolce vita, and for lovers of impeccably crafted literary fiction.

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Return to Valetto

Return to Valetto

By Dominic Smith
ISBN 9780374607685

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