In December last year I came across a second hand book store just across from the beach. They stock lovely books, even vintage Dickens and Shakespeare , that left me in absolute delight. Myself and a friend spend hours browsing through the book store doing the impossible: choosing which ones to pick up and where to draw the line. The Savage Garden by Mark Mills was one of the books I bought, because I found the description interesting and also because of the lovely cover. This is also the first one I’m knocking off my list.
The story is about a young art history student, Adam Strickland who is studying towards his degree at Cambridge University, in 1958. His mentor suggests a thesis topic to him: to go study a Renaissance garden in Tuscany, build in 1548 in memory of the owner’s wife that died at the age of 25. The garden is at Villa Docci, property of the current owner, Signora Francesca Docci and friend of his mentor.
Even though Adam was reluctant at first (finding the villa itself a better topic for a thesis) he was drawn in by the garden with its conflicting elements –a temple, amphitheatres, a grotto and statues of mythic gods and goddesses. He is convinced, after spending a considerable amount of time in the garden that it was built to tell a story… or a confession! He managed to make a connection to Dante’s Inferno (and Ovid) that allows him to uncover the garden’s secret. However that is NOT the only mystery he solves…
The way Mark Mills weaved this tale with art history, mythology and breathtaking/atmospheric descriptions of the garden really made me enjoy this novel SO much! Halfway through the book I was asking the book gods “please don’t let this book disappoint me in the end” and it didn’t. I am not that familiar with art history or greek mythology, but it didn’t matter, the novel was elegantly written. I now want to read Dante’s Inferno. Should I?
If you liked novels like The Shadow of the Wind, I think you might like this one.