Set at Cadenabbia on Lake Como in September 1906, Madame Solario (1956) evokes the leisure of the pre-1914 world and the sensuous delights of Italy: the chestnut woods, the shuttered villas, the garden paths encroached by oleanders: ‘the almost excessive beauty of the winding lake surrounded by mountains, the shores gemmed with golden-yellow villages and classical villas standing among cypress trees.’ When the mysterious Natalia Solario arrives at the Belle Vue Hotel, there are disquieting rumours about her past life and about her excessively close relationship to her brother.
The author herself was equally mysterious: Madame Solario was published anonymously, which contributed to its succès de scandale (Gladys Huntington’s name was not revealed for thirty years). In 1956 the New York Times review of the book began: “The author of this extraordinary novel has chosen to remain anonymous. Curious, the mind invents fantastic impossibilities: Henry James crossed with Ivy Compton-Burnett rendered by EM Forster? Whatever the source, the controlling hand is strong, highly skilled and very sure…major theme is reinforced by echoing minor theme to the creation of a harmonious if disquieting whole.”