Romantic, escapist reading- 4 stars
Source- Bought copy
Simon & Schuster- 2011
Hardback- 480 pages
When I’m in the mood for romantic, escapist reading, then I tend to opt for writers like Erica James, Cathy Kelly and most recently, Santa Montefiore. I’ve read a few of Montefiore’s novels after picking up a cheap bundle in a second hand shop late last year, but The House by the Sea is definitely my favourite of hers so far and I would certainly recommend it if you are looking for a great holiday read or even just a book to remind you of the summer sunshine- which is something we’ve unfortunately seen very little of in the UK this year!
Using that ever popular literary device- the dual time narrative, the reader is treated to two alternating stories; that of a young girl, Floriana, in 1960’s Tuscany and her romance with rich boy Dante, and then of the present and a Devon-based hotelier Marina and her family. Marina’s hotel is struggling financially and she has all of her hopes for its survival pinned on the arrival of an artist in residence- but will the mysterious Argentinian be enough to keep the place from going under? And just what secret is he hiding?
Sometimes with dual time narrative stories, more balance is given to one aspect than the other, but thankfully this wasn’t the case in this book. I was intrigued to see how the stories would eventually interlink (it was given that they would, somehow) and initially I found the story of Floriana and Tuscany far more appealing than present-day Devon. I think this is down to my own love of all things Italian- and the writing of Tuscany was incredibly evocative as well as poignant in places. However, Montefiore’s eloquent writing style soon drew me in completely and I found myself increasingly enjoying both story-lines equally. There was something of a mystery element to the narrative that ensured I wanted to know more.
As evidenced by my four star rating, it is obvious I liked this book a lot- I can be quite discerning with my ‘chick lit’ reads but this was a great choice for a change! The characters were well developed with all of their own believable personalities- some more flawed than others. I started off this book despising Marina’s step-daughter Clementine for example, but then she began to grow on me. It was interesting to witness the journey she made through the course of the novel. I wanted to know more about her and Marina- the dynamics between them were fascinating to read about and I was keen to know what had happened in Marina’s past to make her so sad at times. Some of the other characters were admittedly a little bit pantomime villain in places, but that didn’t spoil my affection towards this book at all.
If you are looking for an easy to read, well-written romance novel, then look no further. With a bit of added mystery and intrigue, this is the perfect book to curl up with and while away a few hours. I will definitely be reading more by Montefiore soon.