Lizzie and Dante by Mary Bly – Book Review

Title: Lizzie and Dante (review copy)

Author: Mary Bly

Genre/Themes/Content Warning: Contemporary, Drama, Romantic drama, Terminal Illness, Cancer, Alcoholism, Ableism

Book cover of Lizzie & Dante by Mary Bly

Blurb from NetGalley

The insightful, audacious, and deeply romantic story of a woman whose life turns upside down on a magical holiday in Italy – perfect for fans of Beautiful Ruins or Under the Tuscan Sun. . .

On the heels of a difficult break-up and a devastating diagnosis, Shakespearean scholar Lizzie Delford decides to take one last lavish vacation on Elba, the sun-kissed island off the Italian coast, with her best friend and his movie-star boyfriend.

Once settled into a luxurious seaside resort, Lizzie has to make big decisions about her future, and she needs the one thing she may be running out of: time.

She leaves the yacht owners and celebrities behind and sneaks off to the public beach, where she meets the unfairly gorgeous Dante, his battered dog Lily, and his wry daughter Etta, a twelve-year-old desperate for a mother.

Soon Lizzie is confronted with a new dilemma. Is it fair to fall in love if time is short? Are the delicacies of life worth tasting, even if you savour them only for a short while?

My Review

I need to pay better attention to book blurbs. I sometimes hate reading them because I enjoy knowing very little about a novel before I start it, so often times I quickly scan the blurb just letting one or two words pop out at me and make a snap decision to read.

Yeah that didn’t work so well for me this time.

What leapt out at me was the “perfect for fans of Beautiful Ruins” line. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is one of my all time favourite books so I just thought that if this novel conjured anything like the atmosphere and storyline of that book well turn I’m in for a treat.

And I saw something along the lines of summer romance and thought yup okay, I’ll request this book.

What I missed was this key line “a devastating diagnosis”…. oh if I’d noticed that warning bells would have rung out in my head.

The devastating diagnosis in this instance is cancer. Stage iii cancer. Honestly I think cancer should have been mentioned in the blurb as I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this book is ALL about cancer and a terminal diagnosis. It’s a content warning that potential readers need to be aware of.

So the story follows 32 year old Lizzie who escapes for the summertime to an Italian island (Elba, the island made famous by Napoleon) with her long time friend Grey and his Hollywood star boyfriend Rohan. Lizzie is there under the guise of being an advisor to Rohan on his newest film project, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet as she is a Shakespearean scholar.

And while there Lizzie meets Dante. He’s a bit of an enigma. Salt of the earth kind of guy who’s a bit rough around the edges but devastatingly charming. And he has a precocious twelve year old daughter Etta who’s basically looking for a mother; her birth mum died from liver cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism.

And over the next few weeks Lizzie tries not to fall in love with Dante because she’s got terminal cancer and wants to protect Dante and Etta from grief.

There are quite a lot of heavy emotional issues woven throughout this novel despite it being a very light sort of summery read.

Lizzie and best friend Grey have a bunch of issues to work out many of which stem from the time he came out to Lizzie; they were dating at the time and for some baffling reason Grey is angry that Lizzie bailed on him at this point…. eh she thought he was proposing and instead he was telling her he was gay and sort of expected their relationship would remain the same??? Make it make sense Grey! Can’t have your cake and eat it too. And through all of this Grey somehow feels like he has ownership over Lizzie… I’ll try to explain. He constantly questions Lizzie’s cancer treatment plan and pressures her to go for a painful and risky operation that she’s unsure about having. And in many ways he acts like the cancer is happening to him rather than to Lizzie, and guilts her into feeling like she’s not *fighting* the cancer as strongly as she could be…

So I really didn’t like him as a character. He seemed very selfish for much of the book… which okay. That’s not a critique on the book because the world is full of selfish people and fiction would never be believable if it didn’t authentically represent all the AHs out there!

But this guilting a person into medical treatment… don’t like it.

It happened to a lesser extent with the romantic love story between Lizzie and Dante, and the love story whereby Lizzie felt herself becoming a mother to Etta… but basically the whole moral of the book seems to be that if you’ve got love in your life you’ll put your body through all sorts of horrific medical treatment just to somehow prove your love for these people? That when you eventually die from your utterly cruel illness that at least the survivors will know you *tried everything* to stay with them and that you suffered so much but wow what an inspiration you are to us all for fighting through the illness and the pain and the torment etc etc etc etc….

That epilogue in particular just made me want to vomit from all the cancer inspiration porn of it all.

Look I get it.

Lizzie was becoming detached from the world because of her cancer diagnosis. She thought that the best way to leave this world was quietly so no one would grieve her. She had a whole tonne of internalised ableism going on and that was sad to read about.

But also I feel that her physical and emotional pain was somehow dismissed by the people who supposedly loved her? It just felt as if she were railroaded into going for experimental treatment and damn the consequences of side effects that she’s have to endure. Like this book just had a whole overriding stench of ableism.

There could have been a way to navigate both the internalised ableism that Lizzie felt (re wanting to protect others from grief) and the ableism that is the inspiration porn of someone *fighting* their disease to satisfy their loved ones. But this book just didn’t understand the nuance of those two forms of ableism. Instead it’s all a very heteronormative weepie about living life to the max and just nope. Not for me.

*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review* 

Publishing 1st July 2021, Piatkus

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