The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman
|The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A nicely tense and atmospheric thriller set with a heady Tuscan backdrop, a historical mystery and plenty of incestuous political machinations. Not the most mysterious of mysteries, but a satisfying and well-constructed read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: July 2007|
|Publisher: Piatkus Books|
Dr Rose Asher is a lecturer in comparative literature at New York's Hudson University. She specialises in sonnets and in particular, Shakespeare's sonnets. She's in a relationship with the college's President, Mark Abrams, but they are keeping their affair under wraps until she makes tenure - in a small, competitive and nepotistic world such as theirs, it's for the best, Mark says. Almost twenty years ago, as an undergraduate, Rose had spent a summer in Tuscany at La Civetta, a villa long associated with the Hudon's summer schools and which, along with its rich collection of documents and art works, is willed to the college on the death of is current owner, Cyril Graham. While there, Rose had a passionate affair with a married tutor. She's never returned.
But when her favourite student, Robin Weiss, falls from a hotel balcony amidst accusations of plagiarism, Rose finds herself returning to La Civetta and the ghosts of her past, hoping that if she can find the link between the villa and the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets, she will also uncover the truth behind Robin's death.
The Sonnet Lover is a collegiate mystery thriller straight out of Donna Tartt. It's remarkably good at drawing a picture of the competitive and incestuous university world where status, bitchery and gossip runs riot amongst the staff as much as it does among the adolescents it's hoping to educate. Everyone has a secret and everyone is secretly suffocating. Rose Asher's attempt to break this bubble in her search to exonerate Robin Weiss is also as much a battle with herself as it is a battle with anybody else. She's at a pivotal point in her life and she's painfully aware that she's making more than one choice with every move she makes.
The literary background is solid too, and Goodman creates a reasonably plausible - if unlikely - backstory in which sixteenth century poetess, rape victim, mother and nun Ginevra de Laura, who once lived at La Civetta, is Shakespeare's Dark Lady. I rather enjoyed this aspect of the novel, it rather reminded me of Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time which argues - in an equally unlikely manner - that Richard III did not kill the Princes in the Tower. And the Tuscan backdrop is simply sublime.
The tension does gather in the last third of the book, but if you're looking for cliffhangers and a difficult mystery to puzzle out, you may be disappointed. Rose, like most people, I suppose, isn't very bright when it comes to seeing through people to whom she's close. I worked out what had really happened with Robin Weiss very early on, and as I'm always the last one to guess the villain, I'm sure most readers would be ahead of me. However, this actually helps to make her a sympathetic character to root for. If you enjoy a well-written romantic thriller and you're interested to see the greed and vanity lurking behind the veneer of glamorous, intelligent, well-connected people, you won't mind too much.
The Sonnet Lover is a perfect holiday read. It isn't too demanding but it's considerably more worthwhile than most of the books you'll find at the airport. Put it in your suitcase before you leave.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman at Amazon.com.
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