The Savage Garden
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The Savage Garden

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  3,812 ratings  ·  453 reviews
Tuscany, 1958

Behind a villa in the heart of Tuscany lies a Renaissance garden of enchanting beauty. Its grottoes, pagan statues and classical inscriptions seem to have a secret life of their own - and a secret message, too, for those with eyes to read it.

Young scholar Adam Strickland is just such a person. Arriving in 1958, he finds the Docci family, their house and the un...more
Paperback, 388 pages
Published 2007 by Harper (first published 2006)
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Blair
A quick, easy and absorbing read with a mildly compelling plot and an interesting cast of characters. I wasn't too impressed with the quality of the writing, though; one of the reviews quoted on the jacket makes the rather outlandish claim that it's of Booker nominee standard, but there's noticeable repetition of several phrases, the sex scenes are frankly terrible, and the dialogue is littered with slang that I don't think would have even existed in 1950s Britain, let alone been understood by a...more
Hayes
3.5 stars, more or less, but gets an extra half star for mentioning things I love (in no particular order):

ancient villas in Tuscany
good wine
la fiorentina (T-Bone steak, Tuscan style)
The Boboli Gardens
Siena
the Dorothy L. Sayers translation of The Divine Comedy
The Bomarzo Gardens
natural hot springs

I would have been just as happy without the sex, but that's just me.

A decent mystery, nice story telling. Motivations and plot a little thin at the end, but not so as you'd notice overly much.

A nice r...more
Heather
Aug 30, 2007 Heather rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art lovers, people interested in classical studies, mystery readers
Andrew Strickland is a somewhat unfocused art history student at Cambridge University. His work is rather lackadaisical, drawing heavily on his source material without coming to many original conclusions. He prefers to spend his days drinking with friends and has given little thought to his thesis. After all, it’s not due for a year.
Everything changes when Andrew’s mentor, Professor Leonard, assigns him to a special summer project. The owner of a famous memorial garden in Tuscany has requested...more
Aredhel
At a glance this book is an interesting blend of art, history and mystery. However as you begin reading it, it turns out to be a total disappointment.

First of all, there are shabby dialogues...gosh! I just can't believe, that those phrases, that the main characters employed in their daily life, can be called dialogues at all. For ex,

“It’s different.”
“What?”
“The sound.”
“How?”
“I don’t know.”


This is, undoubtedly, a real "masterpiece"! And suchlike dialogues are everywhere!

Then there is the main cha...more
Rachel Hawes
Another book about a house with a dark past -- and another reference to Jane Eyre!

Set in Tuscany in 1958, Adam - an art history undergrad - goes off to stay at a villa to study the sculpture in the gardens for his thesis. As he uncovers the message of the gardens, and subsequently a crime committed 400 years ago, he also begins to uncover a similar crime much closer to home.

Whilst the plot is a little far fetched, this is beautifully written and the descriptions of the Tuscan landscapes, and th...more
Cecilia
Oct 11, 2007 Cecilia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: thriller readers/mystery fans
Shelves: favorites
This book uses the magic and allure of Tuscany to its advantage by setting a taut mystery within one of the region’s gardens. Mills does a great job of setting the stage for his mystery…which is much more psychological than action. Mills’ main character, Adam Strickland, is a Cambridge grad student who is given what appears to be the assignment of a lifetime. While in the gardens of Tuscany which he is to write about, he uncovers a mystery several centuries past. This mystery of long ago leads h...more
Sarah Norman
Well, this is one of those books that makes me feel like I better become an author. Seriously, can any old crap become a bestseller? If so, let me start writing. That's a bit mean, but DUDE. It was a bit rubbish.

It tells the story of a young man who as a university project goes to study a Renaissance garden in Italy. It's written in the past, and opens with him in university, and the narrator says of his past self: "Try as he might, he couldn't penetrate the workings of that stranger's mind, let...more
TwoDrinks
Note to self: you didn't like this book. It is tedious for several reasons. Firstly, I'm not in to Greek or Roman mythology and sadly this is central to the story. Secondly, it's set in 1958 but you keep forgetting because this isn't tied in to the tale enough. Thirdly, what are the three sex scenes about? They seem to be written in a different voice by a different author. Fourthly, the writer is really mean about giving the reader clues to help you piece together the crime (or maybe I missed th...more
Sophie
Apr 05, 2008 Sophie rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: someone who is going on holiday to Tuscany and has already read The Enchanted April
Shelves: world-war-ii
I read this for a book group and hated it. There are so many plotholes and unfinished elements. You get the feeling that the writer read the Da Vince Code and thought he too could write a thriller based on his knowledge of art history. The result is far from thrilling though; the characters are not believable(particularly the female ones), the plot is highly contrived and even more unbelievable than the characters and the ending is rushed. On the plus side, the descriptions of the garden and of...more
Jthink
I agree with many of the other reviews: slow paced, but the atmosphere and the story's setting in beautiful Tuscany, a place I have visited, created by Mark Mills more than makes up for the pacing. It is also extremely erudite: a cultured and well-written story. Well done Mr. Mills. I enjoyed it.

ADDENDUM: Coming across this book again in sorting out a few bookshelves (in real life), I re-read it. The reason being that it turned out the author had successfully evoked images in mind when reading i...more
Linda
Cambridge student Adam Strickland is handed the opportunity of a lifetime, a two week trip to Tuscany to study the 17th century garden at the Villa Docci. Never before studied, it's the perfect thesis topic. When he arrives, Adam finds both villa and garden enchanting, and somehow mysterious. The elderly Signora Docci and her granddaughter Antonella are equally charming. But as Adams delves into the garden's many enigmatic features, he begins to question the reasons behind its design. The garden...more
LindyLouMac
Despite the very slow pace of this novel I found it hugely atmospheric. Maybe especially so because I know some of the places mentioned personally, A particular favourite being Bomarzo, The Sacred Wood.

Will definitely appeal to lovers of Italy, Gardens their histories and thrillers. It was only my interest in these first two that kept me turning the pages at first because I found I was almost halfway through before the mystery pulled me in properly. I was pulled in very slowly by the mystery of...more
Jodie
While reading this book I was torn between digging up my old art history books, brushing up on my classics, and running off to a villa in Italy, hopefully one with an amazing sculpture garden. The plot unfolded beautifully and with bits and pieces of the classics and art intertwined with descriptions of this amazing garden. An art history lesson tucked into a mystery. Now if I could just find that villa in Italy....
Rebecca
Too dull to keep reading. It's kind of hard to get excited about a mystery featuring Art History majors obsessing over the arm positions of statues and what they might mean. Maybe there was more to the book but I couldn't find any of it in the first 80 pages.
Barbara Rosenthal
A darkly provocative mystery set in the Tuscan hills; clue by clue the mystery of the ancient garden is revealed; and a more recent murder. Fun! Fun! Fun!
Stephan
I wonder what the best selling book of this author is like after reading this. Certain elements were delivered with beautiful detail while others seemed to set the story in a vague and uncertain setting. My largest complaint with this narrative was with the time in which the story was to have taken place. With the exception of the author telling the reader of the year, no where is there any point of reference to enforce it. Neither the clothes of the characters nor the phrases used in their lang...more
Kellie
I was so excited to read this. I had read Amagansett last year and loved it. I was disappointed in this one. The idea behind this was extraordinary. A art history student is invited to Italy to figure out the meaning behind an extravagant garden and the placement of statues within the grounds. He was to figure out the meaning behind the garden and all the objects within and see if it’s design had meaning. And that it did. What the student did not bank on was his personal involvement with the mem...more
Sandra
Um jovem estudante da universidade de Cambridge é convidado por um professor para realizar uma tese baseada num misterioso jardim. De início a ideia parece absurda, mas depois de considerar todas as possibilidades Adam aceita o convite e viaja para a Toscana, Itália, a fim de concretizar esse projecto. Mas tudo o que parece ser, não o é. E a viagem de Adam, desde o primeiro minuto, está programada por alguém que necessita dele, que precisa urgentemente de uma marioneta de modo a conseguir o que...more
Kristen
The Savage Garden fits nicely into a subgenre I've begun to think of as the Academic Mystery. In this genre, there's usually some kind of old text that needs to be unraveled, while at the same time, a contemporary mystery or crime also presents itself. (Some favorites in this genre include Possession and Gospel.) In the Savage Garden, we follow a college student as he travels to Italy to study a 16th Century garden that harbors a mystery in its use of symbolism and mythology -- and stumbles acro...more
Elaine Dowling
This is an unusual book abut an English college student in the 1950's who goes to Italy to write a thesis on a Renaissance garden that still exists. The garden was created by the original owner of the attached house in memory of his dead wife. The student quickly figures out that all is not as it appears -- either in the garden's symbolism and the story it tells or in the locked up 3rd floor of the attached house.

In all honesty, a lot of things about this book could have been better. I would hav...more
Melissa
I know I will be in the minority here. After all the book was full of art, literature, mythology...even a little genetics. It is for all of this intelligence that I will grudgingly give it two stars. That said, Mr. Mills expects us to believe that attractive women, young and old, will just drop their panties for a man that reads Dante. "Sexual favors in return for blanket praise. Was it really that simple?" Apparently, we are led to believe. Females in the story that are too old (the undesireabl...more
Cindy
This book was hard for me to get into. The redeeming part was the descriptions of the garden. Though I'm not really into Greek Mythology, the way the statues were described made me feel like I was right there walking through the garden with Adam. The explanations of the hidden meaning in the statues was something of a reach for me to grasp, as was the top floor of the villa being sealed off for so many years. The relationship between Adam and his brother, the way he worried about his mother, the...more
iamtedae
Sep 24, 2007 iamtedae rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical mystery
Shelves: favorites
I really enjoyed this! It's set in 1940's (or thereabouts) England and Italy. Even though the tone and style are quite obviously masculine (meaning the female characters suffer a certain... lack of reality?), it's not overwhelming. The male characters, however are immensely entertaining. The story is gripping, the ending is surprising, and the main character invites support and liking. There's even a happy ending. I would LOVE to see this as a movie, even if it would cut out some marvelous inter...more
Rachel
I enjoyed the story, although it didn't really pose many questions or give away much information with which to solve the 'mystery' so it didn't particularly feel like a whodunnit.
The drawing and descriptions of the house and garden were very effective in conjuring up the Villa and grounds.
I especially liked the relationship between the two brothers, Harry and Adam and wonder if they might feature in another novel?
However, the reason for only 3 stars is that it is meant to be 1958 while the lan...more
Susan Henn
12/09 A murder mystery set 12 years after WWII. The story follows a young English University student who goes to Italy to study a 400 year old garden for his thesis. The interesting part of the book was the discovery that the garden was the confession of murder by the villa owner of his adulterous young bride. The garden's design was based on Dante's Inferno and the clues were hidden in the text and corresponding inscriptions in the garden. The murder that took place at the end of WWII was far l...more
Miriam
Yet again, I loved the premise of this book: slightly lazy graduate student sent to Italy by his mildly disdainful professor to study an Italianate garden. But, the house is mysterious! The women (even the old ones) are seductive and, OF COURSE, The garden has hidden secrets. And the answers COULD lie in Dante's Inferno or on the closed off top floor of the mansion! What could be bad?

Well, nothing, really, except that the story was kind of slow, the characters flat, the mystery was kind of weak....more
Kristen
It's 1:33am, and welcome to yet another one of Kristen's reviews where she's almost at that groggy point. ;)

I feel like this book had so much potential. I love a book that can competently go back and forth between two different time periods, which is initially what I thought this would be. While the storyline is intriguing enough, it really fell flat. For one, there's so much unnecessary detail that didn't further the plot or have any relevance whatsoever to the story. (I made sure to remember s...more
Glyn Smith-Wild
I think this is one of the cleverest books I have ever read. To develop no less than three mysteries in one book, separated, one in the present (1958) another by fourteen years and yet another by four hundred years is no mean feat. Whilst there is a lot of content referring to Mythology, the reader does not have to be an academic to understand it (quite a relief for Luddites like me!). Each of the characters come alive, and the descriptions of the Italian countryside and especially the garden ar...more
Karen
A so-so experience. While the Italian setting and some of the ideas are interesting, the reader is asked to go along with too many far-fetched plot twists and some lazy writing, too. Be prepared for cliches, repetitious phrasing and anachronisms (for a story set in 1958). Mills also uses an incredibly annoying device: beginning and ending the book with the identical paragraph, which reminded me of some of the middle school stories I grade.
Paulette Vecchio
Loved this book. This is the second book by Mark Mills that I have read and I'm even more impressed with this one. The atmosphere and history adds depth to the wonderful plotting and the characters are all people the reader can care about. Highly recommended.
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Mark Mills is a British writer of screenplays and novels. His first screenplay was BAFTA-nominated short film One Night Stand starring Jemma Redgrave and James Purefoy in 1993; this won Mills a 'Best Screenplay' award at the Angers European First Film Festival in 1995.
Mills's first novel was Amagansett, later reissued under the title The Whaleboat House published in 2004; this won him the 'Best Cr...more
More about Mark Mills...
Amagansett The Information Officer House of the Hunted Scariest Stories You've Ever Heard Crafting the Very Short Story: An Anthology of 100 Masterpieces

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“It's the job of old people to disapprove of everything young people do. . .If we don't disapprove, then the young have nothing to fight against and the world will never change. It cannot move on.” 18 likes
“When they start killing the men of ideas, you can be sure the Devil is laughing.” 12 likes
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