In Tuscany, Italy, a young girl named Floriana lives in poverty with her drunkard father. One day]whilst peering through the gates of a very exclusive villa Floriana meets Dante, the son of the extremely rich owner, and falls instantly in love. She’s sure they are destined to be together, but will her adoration and faith be enough to bridge the gap between their two very different classes?
Many years later in Devon, England, Marina is desperate to save the hotel she and her husband own from financial ruin. She hires a gorgeous Argentinean, Rafa, to be the hotel’s artist-in-residence, hoping he’ll draw in some much needed new customers. Rafa is made to feel very welcome by everyone, and in particular by Marina’s step-daughter Clementine. However, unbeknown to the rest of our cast, he has a very secret reason for coming to Devon, a reason he awaits the perfect moment to reveal.
Floriana was a lovely lead: she was so young and naïve, I immediately wanted to mother her, loathed her useless father and was desperate for Dante to return her feelings. It was a shame that none of the characters in the Devon scenes caught my interest the way she did, and I found it hard to empathise with the principal females in these sections: Marina is unrealistic about her hotel’s financial issues and expects her husband to just deal with the fall-out from this , whilst Clementine really was incredibly spoilt - she was rude, insolent, and acted far younger than her years. Also, if she hated her job, her step-mother and Devon so much, then why on Earth doesn’t she just do something about it instead of just whinging all the time?
The book had absolutely gorgeous settings, and Montefiore writes some incredible passages describing the landscapes of Italy and Devon that really made the places come alive, but sadly at the price of slowing down the action of the plot a little too much. My preference was for the parts of the novel set in Italy, possibly because I empathised considerably more with the protagonists in these sections.
There were such large chunks of story before changes of setting that I’d become very involved in the characters I was reading about and was reluctant to switch. It was like getting all cosy on the sofa watching a film and then being forced to move to another, equally comfortable sofa. You like both sofas, but when you are that settled you simply don’t want to budge. I think more frequent changes of setting might have worked better.
‘The House By The Sea’ was a charming story with a lovely ending, but it was a little too leisurely in places and, unfortunately, too few of the characters really stood out for me. However, it was beautifully written and I loved the contrast between the two settings of Devon and Italy, the descriptions of which held the story up but did made the novel very special indeed.
3 and a half stars