Sunday, 9 September 2007

Recommended Reading

Yesterday, I finished The Savage Garden by Mark Mills -

In 1958, Adam Strickland, a young Cambridge student, travels to Villa Docci in Tuscany to study a sixteenth-centur ygarden. Designed and laid out by a grieving husband to the memory of his dead wife, it is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes,meandering rills and classical inscriptions.

Buttragedy has hit the Docci family more recently. The German occupationduring World War Two had a devastating impact on them, and the tensions between collaborators and partisans were played out within their owntight circle.

Adam is fascinated by the Doccis and increasingly aware that there are dangerous secrets hidden within the familydomain.The garden itself starts to exercise a powerful influence overhis imagination, its iconography seeming to point to some deeper,darker truth than was first apparent. And what really lay behind akilling at the villa towards the end of the war?

Past and present, love and intrigue, intertwine in an evocative mystery which vividly captures the experience of an innocent abroad in the uncertainworld of post-War Italy.

The reviews for this book have been mixed and seem to vary from very good to very bad. I think it depends on what you're expecting. Yes, this is set in the crime thriller genre, but please don't expect a 'thrill a minute' or a 'heart-thumping thrill ride'. This is a slow burning account of secrets and discovery, a beautiful picture of post-war Italy, an intriguing and pleasurable look at how an aimless young scholar finds himself feeling suddenly alive.

The Savage Garden is well written with beautiful descriptions which are weirdly simplistic and never fall into dreaded purple prose. The characters are all mapped out vividly and are all likable, even if you hate them (uh, I know what I mean by that). My favourite character is Harry, Adam's troublesome brother who appears part-way through the book. I would jump at the chance to read a follow-up novel involving Adam and Harry and another mystery; they play well off each other. Chemistry.

If you're looking for something to blow your mind, this isn't it. If you're looking for something to make you smile, laugh and care about a main character, if you're looking for a intelligent, comfortable, well written novel to pass the time and leave you with an odd feeling of wanting to go on holiday -- preferably to Italy -- this is for you.


womagwriter said...

Hi SJ, and thanks for linking to my blog!

I read The Savage Garden while on holiday and enjoyed it. You are right - the descriptions of 1950s Italy are so evocative. It's very clever too - you learn a lot about classical myths as you read it.

S J Hollis said...

You're most welcome. Your blog stood out. It's hugely informative. Writing for magazines is absolutely something I'm going to do alongside struggling with my novel, so I shall be following your blog closely.

I certainly feel a little wiser about Classical mythology!