After the non-fiction book about Russia which was my first read this year, I was happy to spend several cosy evenings tucked up in bed with my duvet and heavy blanket, balancing a plate of sandwiches on my knees and reading "The House By The Sea" by Santa Montefiore.
It was one of two books sent to me a few weeks before Christmas by my mother-in-law from England, the other one being "The Lady's Maid", with its review to be found here on my blog.
"The House By The Sea" is, essentially, a love story. Or, rather, several love stories in one. I won't say too much, because it would mean spoiling it for you in case you wish to read it. Let it suffice to say that the story moves between the 1960s and the year 2009, between a magnificent country palace and its even more magnificent gardens in Tuscany and an old mansion, converted into what sounds a truly wonderful hotel, on the coast of Devon. The places are described in a manner that allows you to see them in front of you, and also hear and smell them. Yes, the author is, in my opinion, very good at describing places and their atmosphere, as well as people.
The plot is predictable, and it was quite obvious from the start who the people really were, with plenty of hints for the reader to have an idea of the "secrets" the main characters are carrying. The only surprise for me came when, quite towards the end of the book, the identity of a "gentleman thief" haunting big houses and posh hotels along the Devon coast is revealed.
This predictability does not deter the book from being a very pleasant read, and I like Santa Montefiore's style and her choice of words, most of the time. Although I gathered the meaning from the context, I looked up several words - something I do not need to do very often. Those words were, for instance, "cerulean" and "foppish". The overall feel at the end is rather a bit too sweet - everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, works out well, for everybody, and that simply does not happen in real life, much as we wish it did.
Here are some bits I liked enough for wanting to share them with you:
"I don't know you well enough to know if you're being ungrateful. But I know human nature enough to know that you will never be happy living your life for other people. You have to go your own way and work it all out for yourself."
When I read that, I was reminded of a close friend of mine who has been struggling with the tough decision between staying in an unhappy marriage or starting anew, alone.
This little gem I find very true - even though I am still decades from being really considered "old" by others:
"You know, when you're young you don't ever imagine you're going to be old. But it falls upon you quite unexpectedly and then, there you are: one of the old people you rather despised."
(Note: I do NOT despise old people, but I think you get the idea, why I chose to quote this bit.)
One of the characters falls in love and this is how it makes her feel:
Above all, she liked who she was when she was with him, as if, in his eyes, she was a better version of herself: braver, wittier, prettier.
The personal philosphy of one of the characters is, I think, something most of you will agree to:
"During our lifetime we have many choices which affect those around us as well as our own futures. Imagine a pebble dropped into a pond. You may think that the pebble simply sinks to the bottom, but you are wrong. The pebble causes ripples that run to the edge, where they nudge a leaf off the bank. A bumble bee is drowning in the water, but now he is able to climb onto the leaf and save himself. The bumble bee flies off and lands on the arm of a child, who watches in wonder and thus develops a love of nature. The child's parents are fighting, but the mother sees the bee and panics that her child will be stung. Both parents ruhs to help the child and forget their argument, united in their love for their child. The bee flies off and... well, you can invent whatever story you like."
If you want to know more about the author, her website is informative and set up well.