Excerpt from The Savage Garden by Mark Mills, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

The Savage Garden
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages
    May 2008, 352 pages

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“Which point was that?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Mr. Strickland. To my knowledge—and I read it twice—you only made one point. The others were lifted straight from the books I suggested you read.” He raised a long, bony finger. “And some I didn’t suggest...which, I grant you, displays more initiative than most.”

He handed the essay over.

“We’ll discuss it at greater length another time. Now, your thesis. Have you had any further thoughts?”

Adam had flirted with a couple of ideas—Islamic iconography in Romanesque architecture, the use of line in early Renaissance drawing—but the professor would recognize them for what they were: lazy speculations on some well-trodden fields of study. No, best to keep quiet.

“Not really.”

“You still have a year, of course, but it’s advisable to start applying yourself now, certainly if you wish to show us something of your true colors. Do you, Mr. Strickland?”

“Yes,” said Adam. “Of course.”

“How’s your Italian?”

“Okay. Rusty.”

“Good, then I might have something for you.”

The professor explained that he had recently been contacted by an old acquaintance of his. Signora Docci, the lady in question, was the owner of a large villa in the hills of Tuscany, just south of Florence. “An impressive, if somewhat pedestrian, example of High Renaissance Tuscan vernacular,” was how the professor described the architecture of the building. He saved his praise for the garden, not the formal arrangement of Renaissance terraces abutting the villa, but a later Mannerist addition occupying a sunken grove nearby. Conceived and laid out by a grieving husband to the memory of his dead wife, this plunging patch of woodland was fed by a spring and modeled on Roman gardens of the period, with meandering pathways and rills, statues, inscriptions and neoclassical structures.

“It’s a very unusual place,” the professor said. “Extremely arresting.”

“You know it?”

“I did, some years ago. It has never been altered—that’s rare—and I know for a fact that no proper study has ever been conducted of it. Which is where you come in, if you want to, that is. Signora Docci has kindly offered it as a subject for one of my students.”

Mannerist was bad, a little too overblown for Adam’s taste, and he’d have to do a lot of reading up. Italy, on the other hand, was good, very good.

“Maybe a garden isn’t quite what you had in mind, but don’t dismiss it....Art and Nature coming together to create a whole new entity—a third nature, if you will.”

Adam didn’t require any more encouragement. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, please.”

Excerpted from The Savage Garden by Mark Mills, © 2007 by Mark Mills. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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