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Hear Early One Morning on BBC Radio 4 – and discover some of our favourite characters

To mark the beginning of the Radio 4 Woman’s Hour dramatization of Early One Morning, one of our favourite books this year, we have each chosen a character to introduce. One of the great strengths of this unforgettable novel is the way each character has a unique perspective, and serves to illuminate all the others. With all their foibles and all their many virtues, they seem as real to me as people I actually know (and in some cases, more so). We hope these brief sketches will enhance your enjoyment of the dramatization – and of the book itself.

– Ursula Doyle, Associate Publisher, Virago

  1. Chiara, by Ursula (editorial)
    We first encounter Chiara Ravello marching briskly down a street in occupied Rome. It is 1943; she is alone, indomitable, afraid, yet facing down that fear. She sees the inhabitants of Rome’s ghetto being forced at gunpoint onto trucks, and rather than hurrying away, pretending it isn’t happening, she stands her ground and rescues a stranger’s child. This is how Chiara gets through life – by following through on her chosen course of action, even when it seems impossible. She can be exasperating, but that quality comes from the same place as her courage: a stubbornness, a cussedness, even; a determination to see things through to the end. Her life has been full of heartbreak, but she has learned to take pleasure in the quotidian things: her work, her friends, and her beloved Rome. But the past is about to catch up with her.
  2. Daniele, by Poppy (publicity)
    Although absent for most of the story, Daniele, the boy Chiara rescues, punches a hole in Early One Morning. The grief that he feels and the self-destructive actions that he commits further the distance between him and Chiara and allow the reader to understand his anguish. He is a beautiful character – albeit a brutal one.
  3. Father Antonio, by Stephen (marketing)
    Father Antonio has a huge bearing on the lives of Chiara and Daniele. His importance, and influence on events, grows by stealth. Initially his role is to provide support for Chiara through a series of beautifully depicted confessional conversations and to help us understand the depths of grief and loss she continues to feel down the years. But as we begin to understand exactly how Father Antonio’s actions have shaped the characters’ lives, we feel their full sense of betrayal and rage – particularly Chiara’s. Yet strangely he remains sympathetic – his efforts to do the right thing have consequences he cannot fully understand.
  4. Maria, by Ailah (editorial)
    Maria perfectly expresses the boredom and frustration that often comes with teenage life. Yet instead of falling in line, she rebels and makes her way to Italy. I love a character in search of her past, I love a character on the threshold of adulthood and most of all, I love a young character who is fighting quite fiercely to find some meaning by way of person or place. Maria will not fail to remind you of some element of yourself. She is also a good demonstration of that juicy idea that keeps so much fiction going: that one event can reverberate through the lives of many generations.
  5. Simone, by Zoe (publicity)
    Simone curls herself through the narrative like the smoke from one of Chiara’s cigarettes. When we first meet her, we know she has a tight bond with Chiara. She is charismatic, glamorous, loyal, pragmatic and warm. But we soon learn that she and Chiara have not always had this bond – Simone was the mistress of Chiara’s father, and the cause of much jealousy and anguish to her family. But a dispute between these two strong-willed women over ownership of a family ring, one of the loveliest talismans of the story, turns out to be pivotal to Simone and Chiara’s future.
  6. Assunta, by David (editorial)
    In other households, and in lesser novels, Assunta would be invisible. But in Early One Morning, Chiara’s cleaner – despite taking centre stage in only a handful of scenes – is a vital and integral part of her life. Always ready with an unsolicited view, she hilariously scolds Chiara for smoking, the scolding accompanied by overblown (and utterly ineffectual) hand-wafting, and is no less critical of Maria when she comes to stay. Fundamentally, Assunta cares about people, just like her employer. A comforting presence to those around her, she offers us a level-headed perspective on Chiara and Maria, yet she has an enigmatic side – and we’re invited, alongside Chiara, to imagine what her secrets might be.

Early One Morning is available to buy in hardback and ebook now:

Come and hear Virginia Baily talk about Early One Morning this autumn

Read the first chapter of Early one Morning now

Early One Morning hits the bestseller charts