12 Sept 2017

Review - The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Title: The Savage Garden 

Author: Mark Mills 

Rating: 5/5 stars 


Tuscany, 1958 

Behind a villa in the heart of Tuscany lies a Renaissance garden of enchanting beauty. Its grottoes, pagan statues and classical inscriptions seem to have a secret life of their own - and a secret message, too, for those with eyes to read it. 

Young scholar Adam Strickland is just such a person. Arriving in 1958, he finds the Docci family, their house and the unique garden as seductive as each other. But post-War Italy is still a strange, even dangerous, place and the Doccis have some dark skeletons hidden away in their past. 

Before this mysterious and beautiful summer ends, Adam will uncover two stories of love, revenge and murder, separated by 400 years... but is another tragedy about to be added to the villa's cursed history?

My Thoughts:

When murder mystery gets entwined with classic literature in a nicely wrapped, well presented package – that’s when I go nuts for a book. Just how it happened with The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. 

I confess, there is a personal reason as well why this book ended on my favourite list very fast (I happened to analyze a garden’s role in a literary work in my bachelor thesis back then), but there are so many reasons why this book would appeal to a lot of people and I just want to spread the love. 

In the beginning of the story we have a young English fellow who has to write his thesis, but is unsure what topic he should choose. His professor suggests him to visit one of his old friends in Tuscany and study a garden that lies behind the house of the old mansion there. Adam, being totally clueless about anonymous motives in the background, agrees and thus he gets introduced to the Docci family and their secrets. 

The garden is a character in this book in itself. It is a very sinister place and it sets the atmosphere of the whole novel – let me tell you, the place gave me goosebumps from time to time. It is isolated, surrounded by trees and there are statues elected in it, telling stories from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Somehow while reading, I always imagined it was a quiet place, but in a creepy way.  

During his research Adam learns about the garden’s history and also finds out how badly the second world war interfered with the life of the Docci family. Soon he has a double murder mystery on his hands and he is determined to solve both of them. 

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and I enjoy stories immensely in which a writer can sensibly combine two time periods (in this case these periods are divided by 400 years). 16th century and 20th century Italy differs from each other in many things, but people don’t change – some of them are greedy in love and some of them are greedy in general… 

The storytelling can seem a bit slow at times, but this isn’t a disadvantage in the case of this novel, because the puzzles that are being put together keep the reader interested; he journey has to be savoured. 

Literature has a special role in the mystery related to the garden and when that was revealed I was incredibly pleased (indeed, I was grinning like an idiot). As a former student of literature I couldn’t have asked for more, but to see what I mean, you have to read the book, because I won’t say more here – I don’t want to be a spoilsport.  

Most of the characters were interesting and rich and the book didn’t only present itself like a nicely layered cake because it included different time periods, but because it included different generations of people as well. 

The past leaked into the present as more and more details resurfaced from the Docci history and I, as the reader was grateful for every bit of information. I could have imagined a bit of a twist at the end perhaps, because the most recent murder (i.e. the identity of the killer) was too obvious, but still, this lack of complication didn’t kill the dark charm of the novel. 

I couldn’t recommend The Savage Garden more, as it was one of the best novels I read this year.

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