The Volcano Lover is Sir William Hamilton, English Ambassador at the Court of Naples from1764-1800. Some years after his first wife has died, he accepts the role of protector of his nephew's discarded mistress, Emma, but becomes her lover and finally her husband. Nelson appears about halfway through the novel and, not without irony, is referred to as "the hero" thereafter. As with Goethe who has a walk on part earlier in the tale, the fact of his greatness is deftly indicated without much psychologising, which leaves room for the imagination of the reader. The gradual adjustment to the now notorious menage a trois is convincingly described, and although the author criticises them for their connivance in the hundreds of executions following the suppression of the Republican uprising in Naples, her portraits of them are by no means wholly unsympathetic.
From time to time the 20th century authorial voice, rises above the narrative to reflect on human foibles, the status of women, and social injustice but without impeding the forward impetus of the story. There are witty digressions on Don Giovanni and Tosca, and after a dying monologue from Sir William, there are posthumous utterances by Emma Hamilton and her mother, and by Eleonora Pimental, executed in 1799 by tht King's party. This Republican has the final words and their power and integrity end the book with a thunderclap.
There is humour,pathos,wit and passion in this wonderfully readable and unfailingly intelligent book. A tour de force.