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THE MERMAID GARDEN by Santa Montefiore

THE MERMAID GARDEN

By Santa Montefiore

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-2430-4
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

An Englishwoman with a mysterious past struggles to hold on to a country hotel.

In 1966, Floriana, a girl from a tiny Tuscan village, discovers a walled garden and an attached villa belonging to a wealthy industrialist, Beppe, who allegedly has Mafia connections. Scaling the wall, Floriana is soon befriended by Beppe’s son, Dante, and the family dog, Good-Night.  Cut to 2009: Marina, who with her husband Grey and a few loyal retainers transformed a Devonshire mansion into the charmingly rustic Hotel Polzanze, fears that mounting debt may force them to sell the place. Grey’s adult children, Jake and Clementine, have never warmed to Marina since she broke up their father’s first marriage when they were youngsters.  Clementine in particular has been in a sulk since family finances forced her to return from travels in India to take a dull office job. Egged on by her officemate Sylvia, she dates a lager lout she doesn’t really care for. But when handsome Rafa, an Italian-Argentinean painter, arrives at Polzanze to give art lessons to elderly guests, Clementine is utterly entranced. By 1971, Floriana has grown into a beautiful young woman, and when Dante returns from his college studies he vows eternal love. However, Beppe will never approve of his heir-apparent’s marriage to a lower-class girl whose father is the town drunk; instead he pressures Dante to court Costanza, daughter of an impoverished count. But when Dante and Floriana have an ill-advised tryst, her resulting pregnancy will create an embarrassment that Beppe must eliminate in the traditional Mafia way.  The British and Tuscan narratives alternate, leaving readers to wonder how, exactly, they intersect. Aside from the obvious clues—Marina is so secretive her stepchildren call her "Submarine," and Rafa did not come to Polzanze by chance, but by design—it is to the author’s credit that she manages to prolong the puzzle until the not-so-bitter end.

An absorbing plot conveyed in woefully clichéd language: Montefiore’s hearts are always swelling, filling or leaping.