A young, dual-career couple living in Turin, Italy are expecting their first child. When the wife is put on complete bed rest the husband hires a widowed housekeeper (Mrs. A.) to run their small household and serve as company for his wife. When the child, a boy named Emanuele is born, the woman stays on and serves the couple in the capacity of housekeeper/nanny/cook. Though she is utilitarian and unemotional she becomes an integral and indispensable part of their family. They affectionately call Mrs. A. “Babette”. Her love of routine and her reliability become the fulcrum around which their family revolves. It is only when she becomes terminally ill that their relationship is put under scrutiny. This in turn puts their own relationship under scrutiny and it would appear to be found wanting… Without the glue that Babette provided there seems to be no cohesion left. They are like a rudderless ship in a storm – with no captain.
There is no overt drama in “Like Family“, other than the drama inherent in ordinary human life and death, but the characters with all their flaws and problems are portrayed in such a believable manner that the reader completely understands their emotional bond.
The author, though quite young, has a deep and insightful understanding of human nature. He portrays the self absorption and petulance, the longings and the sadness, the frustrations and the losses in such a way that they are palpable. “Like Family” proves the point that strangers can sometimes become closer to us than our blood relatives. Who we choose to love makes them – as the title suggests “Like Family“.
I’ve been waffling about how to rate this novella, and after much soul-searching have decided that it can be no less than a five. This is due to the exemplary writing more than any other factor. I am now eager to read his award-winning first novel entitled “The Solitude of Prime Numbers“.
Thanks to Pamela Dorman Books/Penguin Group/Viking for granting me approval to read a digital copy of this work via NetGalley.
The publisher has provided an online reading guide for “Like Family” that includes questions and topics for discussion.
Paolo Giordano was born in Turin in 1982. He is working on a doctorate in particle physics. His first novel, “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” was published in 2008 and won the 2008 Strega Prize. A film version of the novel, with minor adaptations and directed by Saverio Costanzo, was released in 2010.