I have read this author before, so I suppose I knew what I was getting when I picked up the novel. A good story based in some beautiful parts of the world, with characters who you could feel for and despise in probable equal measure.
The House by the Sea is no different, we have two settings – Tuscany, Italy in the late 1960s and Devon, England in 2009.
In Tuscany, Floriana discovers a secret place where she can spy on the beautiful house La Magdalena, on one such day she meets Dante the man she decides she will marry despite him being eighteen and her only being ten (“and ten months”). Love blossoms for Floriana in the beautiful setting, which Santa Montefiore brings alive. But Floriana is not of the class of Dante, everyone knows so and even his family although they seemingly adore her, harbour in their hearts that whatever dream Floriana has will never come true. But for Dante, there is only one love for him, but is he strong enough to weather everything that he will lose for love.
In Devon, Marina is nurturing her baby, her country house hotel (The House by the Sea) whilst trying to maintain her relationship with Grey and his two adult stepchildren, Jake and Clementine who seem to help and resent her respectively. All the effort, time (and money) Marina has put into this wonderful place, where the countryside and the coast goes on forever, where you can stumble across cream teas, scones piled high with cream and jam, and you can paint what ever you feel thanks to the artist in residence for the summer. Anything new and different to keep the hotel going. Then Rafa walks into Marina’s life. A thirty something Argentinian who takes up the artist’s residency for the summer and seems to be able to calm a family which is feuding. But does he have an ulterior motive, what is the real reason for an Argentinian to be so far away from home.
And so two seemingly separate stories are told, not in alternating chapters which can work and does in many books, but in long sections where you can lose yourself with the characters and settings and start to get a feel for the whole story. But the two stories must be going somewhere and there must be a link and the story builds to that point where it all becomes clear.
I was swept away with this main story, and I did not like to admit to myself that I probably knew the outcome and I was not wrong. Nevertheless getting there was a joy and although the supporting characters sub plots were rather unnecessary in the modern sections of the book (not the past), the characters themselves did add to Marina’s story in this case. Marina came across to me as a rather lost soul, who was searching for something which she found in the hotel and was so frightened to let go in case she again became lost once again.
The story set in the 1960s had the right amount of characters to make the story strong, they were all there for a reason and their behaviour may not have been the best, but was focussed on what was expected instead of what will be. I had to remind myself that this section of the book was only around forty years previous as in similar structure novels, there can be a good eighty or more years between the dual storylines.
A good read and one that I enjoyed.
This book had been on my shelf for a while and I picked it up because I wanted to read something from an author which was familiar and thus a story which was going to be of the formula that I like; big houses, dual narratives and a good read. When I finished the book I wanted more, I wanted more of the story of The House by the Sea. There must be more to tell of that delightful hotel that Marina created. I wanted to know what happened to Floriana’s mother and brother, surely there is more to tell there.
And so this was a book which whilst having two seemingly separate stories, I liked both in equal measure. Sometimes you are drawn to one or the other I find. The last book I read like that was A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, one narrative was much stronger and I favoured this. It will be interesting to see how I get on with the next book which is of similar style.
Another blogger and reader’s opinion on this book – Helen at She Reads Novels. I only realised Helen had read it when I went to Goodreads to add the book to my ‘read’ list. We both seemed to have picked out similar points in our reviews!