Skip to content

At last: another Natalie Jenner

Another great novel from Oakville's historical fiction specialist

In the photo of Oakville’s Natalie Jenner, linger a moment to take in the eyes and the knowing smile.

This May 14, Jenner’s third novel, Every Time We Say Goodbye, will be released. If you liked the Jane Austen Society or Bloomsbury Girls, you will love this book. If you didn’t, or don’t know them, then now is the time to encounter the maturing voice of Natalie Jenner, whose delightful story telling holds more depth and wisdom.

Vivien, a young aspiring playwright, has her first play staged in London’s West End. It delights audiences, but it is the 1950s and impliedly misogynistic critics eviscerate the production, closing it down. She heads for Rome, where American film makers escaping McCarthyism are using the studios built for Mussolini’s propaganda efforts, Cinecittà, and need a script fixer.

There, she encounters Sophia Loren, and Gina Lollobrigida, and other players in the post-war Italian cinema industry, who people the background in Jenner’s novel. This is a world (richly researched by Jenner) marked by the legacies of the war, fascism and the resistance, and living with the censorship of the Vatican.

The resistance killing of an SS general while Italy was occupied by the Nazis brings reprisals. In telling the gripping story, proposed as a film subject by the modern filmmakers straining against the strictures of the Catholic Church, Jenner grapples with issues of moral ambiguity. She does so with sensitivity and tolerance, with an understanding and acceptance of human nature, reproaching only deceit and malice. It is hard to escape the relevance to the present day.

Every Time We Say Goodbye | Macmillan
Every Time We Say Goodbye | Macmillan

The narrative of the assassination is interleaved with 1950s stories of the film-making community. The link between the two is facilitated by war orphans seeking to understand their pasts. Along with the juxtaposition of wartime and post-liberation Rome is another, that of British and Italian culture. All of this contributes to other moral explorations, around concepts of family and of familial love, but also of romance and sensuality.

The horrors of war raise questions of faith too, which the novel addresses but leaves unanswered without judgement.

All of this is carried along by a narrative style that keep the reader turning pages, moving on to yet another chapter when perhaps one should be closing one’s eyes or tending to some other duty. This is Jenner’s great facility, to which the eyes and knowing smile are clues. She is fascinated by her material, does her research to create a truthful historical world in which her fiction thrives. Interested, she is interesting. She entertains, informs and provokes your reflection.

Every Time We Say Goodbye is fascinating and illuminating, but it is above all enjoyable.

The book is now available for pre-order, and Natalie has written a special chapter for those who order now. I recommend it.

Natalie lives in Oakville with her husband and two rescue dogs.