Mark Mills’ The Savage Garden follows student Adam Strickland to Tuscany, where he begins work on a paper about a famous garden at Villa Docci. But as his research begins to uncover the secrets of the garden, so does his interactions with the Docci family unearth secrets of that family. He finds himself embroiled in a family dynamic going back decades, and suddenly knows there is two mysteries to solve.
The strength in The Savage Garden is in its characters. I liked Adam, who while obviously smart, never seemed to act too far beyond his age. Mills exceeds at this with all his characters; the matron Docci, her granddaughter Antonella, dour houskeeper Maria, the strange storyteller Fausto, they all seemed like people I could meet or have met and understand. I liked them, and I cared about what happened to Adam as he attempted to unravel the mysteries in his life.
Those mysteries are solid ones, backed up with juicy family dramas and interesting histories, and Mills does a good job intertwining them. Why was the garden constructed so strangely? And why has no one been to the top floor of the mansion in 15 years? Adam peels the layers back with equal parts intellect and inspiration, and Mills’ vivid descriptions of Italy help foster the character’s excitement into mine.
There is, of course, one little problem; the mysteries wrap up too tightly. In the interest of not giving anything away, that’s all I can say, and it’s a slight mar in the book overall. However, it’s like when a movie fucks up in a pretty mild way in the last 5 minutes (think the new Indiana Jones movie). It’s hard to be upset, or even not recommend the book, because of what I feel is a slight problem at the end. The rest of the book is really enjoyable so instead of harping on that flaw, I’m just going to enjoy it.
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: May 2008