Book Review: The Good Left Undone

You didn’t need a clock to tell time in Viareggio; you lived by the bells and the baker.

Adriana Trigiani ~ The Good Left Undone


Matelda, the Cabrelli family’s matriarch, has always been brusque and opinionated. Now, as she faces the end of her life, she is determined to share a long-held secret with her family about her own mother’s great love story: with her childhood friend, Silvio, and with dashing Scottish sea captain John Lawrie McVicars, the father Matelda never knew…

In the halcyon past, Domenica Cabrelli thrives in the coastal town of Viareggio until her beloved home becomes unsafe when Italy teeters on the brink of World War II. Her journey takes her from the rocky shores of Marseille to the mystical beauty of Scotland to the dangers of wartime Liverpool – where Italian Scots are imprisoned without cause – as Domenica experiences love, loss, and grief while she longs for home. A hundred years later, her daughter, Matelda, and her granddaughter, Anina, face the same big questions about life and their family’s legacy, while Matelda contemplates what is worth fighting for.

But Matelda is running out of time, and the two timelines intersect and weave together in unexpected and heartbreaking ways that lead the family to shocking revelations and, ultimately, redemption.


What a delightful book. Unassuming, but poetic and engaging, we follow the stories of several women in one family.

Although there is little drama and action, Trigiani’s writing is stunning. The descriptions of Italy, France and Scotland are effortless, conjuring up a perfect visual of the different seas that link the places together and bring hope and tragedy into these women’s lives.

Domenica is fiercely independent and high spirited. Her choices are questioned by her family and neighbours, but she remains true to who she is and what she believes. Although punished for her actions, we see her how others see her and we cannot help but admire her.

Her daughter Matelda is similarly admirable and stubborn, yet both women are dedicated to their husbands and children in their own way. Through Trigiani’s writing we learn a lot about family and what it is to support one another in difficult times.

The plot is good, but this is very much a character-driven story. The backdrop of war is always there, but doesn’t detract from the women’s tales and their own journeys to find out who they are and what really matters. Through them we experience the bond of family, the pull of the ocean and the need to please one’s parents.

Engaging, intimate and beautifully written, this book will capture your hearts and make you yearn for the sea. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I received an uncorrected proof from Grazia and Michael Joseph. Opinions my own.

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