The Mermaid Garden
Santa Montefiore
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Buy *The Mermaid Garden* by Santa Montefiore online

The Mermaid Garden
Santa Montefiore
432 pages
May 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Enduring heartbreaking disappointment while attempting to start a new life is the poignant theme of Montefiore’s latest novel. The two protagonists, Marina and Floriana are in danger of losing the one thing they love: Marina, her beloved hotel Polzanze to the murky hands of creditors; and Floriana, her one true love, the handsome, princely Dante, who beguiles her with promises of love when she visits him at the beautiful Villa La Magdalena in Herba, Tuscany.

Marina, living in Dawcomb, Devon, drives the early part of the story. At fifty, Marina is at the height of her beauty, but as “time dances lightly across her face,” she also hides bitter disappointments. Marina’s sorrow is sometimes too much for her loyal husband, Grey, whose carefully chosen words do nothing to soothe the agony of his wife’s childlessness.

Clementine, Grey’s selfish, spoiled daughter, harbors a “silent nugget of resentment” toward her hardworking stepmother, “this beautiful creature who had once stolen her father's heart.” Clementine also resents her father's declaration that he no longer has the money to fund her self-indulgences. Although her sibling, Jake, lives and works at Polzanze, the financial crisis and accompanying credit crunch have led to tough times for this family.

Her business floundering, Marina hatches a plan to bring an artist-in-residence to Polzanze as a way to attract new business. Soon enough, handsome Argentinian Rafael “Rafi” Santoro calls, setting up his easel and enchanting both Marina and Clementine with his generosity of spirit and uninhibited geniality. Clementine is the most charmed, her face “opening like a sunflower” when she uncharacteristically becomes Rafi’s guide. Their instant mutual attraction sets them on the path of a summer of romance.

While Clementine and Rafi take tentative steps towards intimacy, Marina must finally learn to trust her instincts. We know her story is somehow linked to Floriana’s, an innocent girl who once fell in love with the great Dante Bonfanti, who appears to her after she peeps out coquettishly at his grand yellow villa from behind an avenue of cypress trees. Eager to escape her drunken, dissolute father, Floriana spends her summers at Villa La Magdalena, ultimately stealing Dante's heart as he attempts to take the little stray under his wing.

Although Montefiore’s story takes predictable turns, the author's lessons are as clear as the ripples of a tossed stone. All of her characters must learn to be compassionate as they search for love in all its forms. A child out of wedlock in 1960s' rural Herba is a serious sin, but as Floriana slowly navigates the treacherous reaches of passion, she finds a measure of safety in Dante’s love, a love that eventually pulls at the deepest, darkest depths of Marina’s heart.

Teetering where past and present collide, the author's prose brilliantly captures the essence of the English countryside: the narrow lanes, the frothy green hedges and the white flowered blackthorn, along with Tuscany's sun-dappled poppy fields. Eventually hearts are filled with happiness and waiting is tempered with hope, Montefiore’s novel remaining steadfast to the end in its gorgeous evocation of love and life.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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