Book Review: The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

The bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs returns with The Villa, a brilliant new gothic suspense set at an Italian villa with a dark history. Read on for Doreen Sheridan's review!

This intriguing reinterpretation of the Italian stay that birthed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein does some truly audacious things with storytelling, as it transports that famed historical episode of 1816 to the 1970s, and further brackets it within the pages of a modern-day domestic thriller.

Here in the 21st century, Emily Sheridan is reeling from the seeming collapse of, well:

Everything.

 

It’s the only word that can sum up what a complete and utter shit show this past year has been for me, but it still comes nowhere close to touching it.

 

Career stalling out? Check.

 

Health suddenly terrible for no reason that any doctor can figure out? Check.

 

Husband deciding to leave after seven years of seemingly happy marriage? 

 

Fucking check.

 

It’s been over six months since Matt left, and I keep waiting for all of it to hurt less, for it to be less messy, less… I don’t know. Clichéd. Humiliating.

Now in her thirties, she’s single, childless and in the middle of an increasingly expensive divorce. She’s also stalled on writing the tenth installment of the cozy mystery series that made her name. The main problem is that the bulk of the series was written based on the good times of her relationship with her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Attempting to continue it in a manner that will satisfy both her agent and her fans, even while her personal life is in ruins, is an excruciating chore.

So when Chess Chandler, her childhood best friend turned bestselling self-help guru and influencer, invites her for an Italian writing retreat for two, Emily knows that she should be leaping at the chance. Sure it would put a slight strain on her budget, but the change of scene would be refreshing, if not outright inspiring. The real problem is that Emily isn’t really sure how to deal with Chess’ continuing success, even as her own star seems to be on the wane. But when she discovers that Chess has rented the Italian villa where noted horror author Mari Godwick wrote her groundbreaking novel Lilith Rising, she’s intrigued enough to finally say yes.

Back in the 1970s, Mari had traveled to the Villa Rosato with her boyfriend Pierce Sheldon and her stepsister Lara Larchmont, at the invitation of rock royalty and actual member of the English aristocracy Noel Gordon. They were all members of a bohemian set with ambitions of making their mark on history with their art. Mari, a prolific writer in the childhood she’s just barely left behind, has only recently found out that adulthood, alas, affords her less time and opportunity to write than she desires, especially after setting up house with Pierce:

She’d thought the words would always be that easy, that free.

 

That’s what life with Pierce was supposed to be about, after all. Both of them pursuing their art: Pierce through his music, Mari through her writing.

 

A lovely idea. An idyllic one.

 

The only issue was that it didn’t bloody work.

 

It was hard for two people to be artists when the rugs needed hoovering, and food needed to be purchased, dishes washed. And somehow, those things kept falling to her.

A summer’s stay in Italy sounds like just the thing to both refresh her and help repair the growing cracks in her relationship with free-loving Pierce. But even as she uncovers a rich new seam of creativity, the people around her begin to fall apart, resulting in a gruesome murder that will change her life forever.

Almost five decades later, Emily will arrive at the villa, looking for her own chance to recharge and forget the cares of the everyday world. But what she uncovers during her stay could change not only the accepted biography of Mari Godwick, but also Emily’s own relationship with Chess, who’s practically a sister to her. What lengths will Emily go to in pursuit of the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or even downright dangerous?

This examination of the impact of fiction on the real world is twisting and surprisingly deep. I really loved how Rachel Hawkins transposed the origins of Frankenstein to a more recent fictional, if no less salacious, milieu. While we’ll never really know Mary Shelley’s most private musings on the relationships that simmered during her famed stay at Lake Geneva, Mari’s thoughts are both believable and highly relatable stand-ins, even if the outcome of her fictional stay differs significantly from its historical model’s.

Emily’s thoughts are no less well-detailed, as she faces the collapse of her marriage and her own complicated relationship with Chess. Watching as she gathers her confidence once more, as her life intertwines with Mari’s, makes for a thrilling, compelling read.

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Comments

  1. فتح اقفال

    Great review, thanks for sharing.

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  3. Amara

    Nice

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