The Evening of the Holiday by Shirley Hazzard

There’s an understated elegance in this short novel that tells the story of a young woman spending a holiday in the Italian countryside and an end of a summer romance.  Sophie meets Tancredi, an Italian who is separated from his wife and family. Amidst the courtesies of society, celebration of the town festival and walks in the countryside under the languid heat, their passion leisurely unfolds but not without its troubles.

Sophie, being half-Italian, half-English, merely glides along the periphery of Italian society in thoughts and being. Despite a number of visits, she is aware of herself standing outside the glass looking in, seeing and living but not quite belonging. Hazzard subtle brings her foreignness to the fore by the few facts of reality and some metaphors scattered here and there.

There is Sophie in the middle of a crowd going in the other direction by herself while the rest moves in the opposite way. Her meeting with Tancredi outside the walls connoting that the consummation of their togetherness is only possible when they are both outside the deep-seated reign of intrinsic culture.

Shirley Hazzard has a beautiful way with words like a fading afternoon light that turns every surface almost magical. Its outdated style purports idyllic images of warm landscapes and figures awash with yearning impressions. The fountain scene in the beginning is one of the remarkable scenes for me. Hazzard describes it in a way that I could almost hear the tinkle of Sophie’s bracelets as it fell into the water (it seems fountain scenes are quite magical, remembers Atonement).

The Evening of the Holiday is infinitely stirring, restrained and flowing with just the precise measure of sentimentality and yet it bursts quietly, lingering, and leaving me with discordant relief.


Passionate undercurrents sweep in and out of this eloquent novel about a love affair in a summer countryside in Italy and its inevitable end. It takes place in a setting of pastoral beauty during a time of celebration--a festival.

Sophie, half English, half Italian, meets Tancredi, an Italian who is separated from his wife and family. In telling the story of their love affair, Shirley Hazzard punctures the placid surface of polite Italian society to reveal the intense yearnings and surprising responses in sophisticated people caught up in emotions they do not always understand.

Title: The Evening of the Holiday
Author: Shirley Hazzard
Genre: Fiction
Published: July 2004 (first published in 1966)
Publisher: Picador
Rating: ♨♨♨♨♨ (5 cups - Tender, elegant and undeniably beautiful but not probably for those who always want a happy ending.)