A colleague listed this as a book she has read every year for longer than she can remember, and that made me sit up and take notice. The kind of books that drive anyone to return for an annual visit are the right kind of books to read. This novel proved that to be true.
Mark Mills began as a screenwriter and the cinematic descriptions of his scenes reflect that training. A lazy Cambridge art history student in post-war Europe is given a plum summer project by his mentor–to live at a country estate in Italy and study its fifteenth-century (Renaissance) memorial garden. Its mistress has been bed-ridden and only leaves her room upon young Adam’s arrival. Adam is drawn into the mystery of the garden, which was created for a young noblewoman by her husband long after her death at a young age and shortly before his own death. The garden, filled with statues and fountains of mythological creatures that do not quite fit the usual combinations, and a distinctive layout soon lead Adam to Dante’s Inferno and Dante, Virgil, and the classical myths soon provide a vivid backdrop to the contemporary drama of post-war Italy. Add an upper floor of the estate home that was sealed off just before the end of the war, the death of the estate’s heir at the hands of fleeing Germans, Communists, Nazis, and a sexy widow renting rooms in the village and the plot definitely thickens. Puzzles, lots of them, make this novel a fun read. The garden, with Mills’ cinematic eye, becomes a place I can understand my colleague revisiting each summer.