14 July 2011

Book Review: The House By The Sea by Santa Montefiore

An irresistibly compelling from the internationally bestselling author Ten-year-old Floriana is captivated by the beauty of the magnificent Tuscan villa that overlooks the sea just outside her small village. She likes to spy from the crumbling wall into the gardens, and imagine that one day she'll escape her meagre existence and live there. One day, Dante, the son of the villa's powerful industrialist owner, invites her inside. From that moment on Floriana knows that her destiny is there, with him. But as they grow up they cross an unseen line, jeopardising the very thing they hold most dear. Decades later and hundreds of miles away, a beautiful old country house hotel on England's Devon coast has fallen on hard times. Its owner, Marina, advertises for an artist-in-residence to stay the summer and teach the guests how to paint. Rafael Santoro is charismatic and wise, and soon begins to pacify the discord in her family. However, Rafa is not who he seems. He has his own agenda. Whether to destroy, to seduce, or to heal, it is certain to affect them all.

This is the second of Santa Montefiore's novels I have read. I really enjoyed her previous release The Affair and so when I received a review copy of her latest book, I was looking forward to getting stuck in. I was quite surprised to find out that Santa Montefiore is the sister of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, something I only found out after googling her before writing this review to find out a bit more about her. Montefiore has written many books, in fact this is her 11th title, but do be aware that this was published in the USA under the title of The Mermaid Garden. I think the English title is far more fitting to the book, I'm not really sure I understand why the US publishers chose to bring mermaid's into the title to be honest.

The book is told through 2 stories which appear to be pretty mutually exclusive to each. Firstly is the wonderful tale set in the 1960's and set in Tuscany, the story which definitely held my attention more of the two.  We meet a young girl, Floriana, who has been abandoned by her mother and left in the non-existent care of her drunkard father. I really loved Floriana straight away, a young girl with a real spirit about her that just leaps off the pages and creates such a story around her. Floriana meets and falls in love with a much older boy, Dante, who lives in an expensive old villa by the sea. This is contrasted with the present day story of Marina and her husband who together run a beautiful hotel in Devon. They hire Argentinian artist Rafael as a live-in artist to attract more customers, but Marina's step-daughter Clementine is sure there is more to Rafael than meets the eye.

I thought the book was very well written and Montefiore really well describes the settings of both stories within the book. I really enjoyed the flitting back and forth for the most part too. I must say that I was much more drawn to the story in Tuscany as opposed to the modern day one. I just felt the characters more emotionally and felt more into their story than I did with Marina's, whether this is because Floriana just had a spirit about her that I really connected to or what, I don't know, but each time I found the book moving back to Marina's tale, I was eager to speed through this and get back to the Tuscan one once more. Montefiore writes of Tuscany beautifully, bringing alive Dante's house, the streets and the dresses Floriana's wealthier friends wear around her.

Marina was an odd character, I did struggle to warm to her despite the fact there is clearly something tragic in her past that is affecting her life. For some reason, I didn't seem to want to know too desperately what it was, perhaps because not enough focus was given to Marina. I felt Montefiore handed over too much of the story to Marina's hideous step-daughter Clementine, a despicable young character who, to be honest, was just horrible.  Every time she appeared, I wanted to flick through the pages and skip, I couldn't stand her or her colleague Sylvia who she worked with, both very dislikeable women. It's a shame as if it focused more on Marina and her tale, I feel it would have been more enjoyable. The male characters in the book were interesting, I really liked Rafael and Dante, both were powerful and enigmatic men and really captured the essence of romance of their time.

I felt that this was a good novel let down by some awful characters, and it would have benefitted more from having more of the Tuscan tale within, as that was so beautiful and well written - who doesn't love a story of forbidden romance and a desperation to be together? I found it to be an emotional read, by the end I was gasping at some of the revelations which I didn't see coming (although most I did, although not until close to the end), and overall I did enjoy the read. Montefiore draws you into her world when she writes, you really immerse yourself in her words until you are there with Floriana in Tuscany or Marina in Devon, and that is a talent. A very well woven tale that will draw you in until the last page, just ignore the awful Clementine and your read will be slightly improved! A very enjoyable summer read.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. This doesn't sound good at all, quite boring and historical to be honest.

  2. Definitely not boring Kat, and the historical element isn't shoved down your throat, it just happens to be when part of the book is set.