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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Adam Strickland, a somewhat aimless young scholar at Cambridge University, is called to his professor's office one afternoon and assigned a special summer project: to write a scholarly monograph about the famous Docci garden in Tuscany. Dedicated to the memory of a fifteenth-century nobleman's young wife, the garden is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes, meandering rills, and classical inscriptions. But Adam comes to suspect that something sinister lies buried in the garden's strange iconography. What if Lord Docci's wife was murdered, and her memorial garden is filled with pointers to both the method and the motive of the crime?

As the odd history unfolds, Adam finds himself drawn into a parallel intrigue. Through his evolving relationship with the lady of the house - the ailing, seventy-something Signora Docci - he hears stories of yet another violent death in the family, this one much more recent. The Signora's eldest son was shot by Nazi officers on the third floor of the villa, and her husband, now dead, insisted that the area be sealed and preserved forever. Like the garden, the third-floor rooms are frozen in time.

As Adam delves into his subject, he begins to suspect that his seemingly innocent history project might be a setup. Is he really just the naive student, stumbling upon clues, or is he being used to discover the true meaning of the villa's murderous past?

Audio CD
Published May 10th 2007 by Brilliance Audio on CD Unabridged
ISBN: 142333793X (ISBN13: 9781423337935)
I am not a historian, or architect, or art-historian, nor am I great with mythology.  So, going into this book I had a lot, I mean A LOT, against me.  But what I did have going for me is persistence.  I was intrigued, hooked, confused, needing-to-stop-and-ask-for-directions-but-I’m-a-man-so-I’m-too-stubborn-to lost, and amazed, sometimes all at the same time.  BUT(!!!!) Mark Mills is a master story-teller.  He’s so good at weaving a tale that I could not wait to hear what was next!
Mills’ story appealed to my emotions, my sense of justice, the make-right-the-wrong ingrained in the fabric of my being.  I willed wrong to fail and for right to prevail, and at every twist and turn, Mills would take my “this has to happen next” and change it into a “what just happened? Seriously? I had no idea that was going to happen!” to the very last minutes of this book.
The characters are vivid, lively, interesting.  I immediately wanted to know their story and find out what was so mysterious about their lives.  I loved some, hated others, wanted some to get hit by a bus.  Mills developed his characters, brought them to life.  I could imagine these characters as real people living real lives near Florence, Italy.
The Savage Garden is not necessarily a thinking-man’s novel, but it couldn’t hurt if you were one.  Between the architectural terminology and styles, and mythology, and Italian places, my head would spin.  I’m no thinking-man, never have I claimed to be one (ask my wife, she’ll verify it!) and I was able to enjoy it.  I have a feeling that if this had been a printed copy, it might would have made it on my DNF list.  There were times when I felt dumb for not knowing what was being talked about (i.e. keeping up with who begot who and who was in love with who in the mythology…or should some of them be “whom?”…anyway…), but being an audiobook, something about it became vivid, more interesting, less imposing.  Basically, I really enjoyed the story.
4 Stars: visiting this garden made me itch to know how the story would end!
Many Adventures,

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