Reading guide for The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills X
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2008, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

Introduction
The summer of 1958 begins inauspiciously for art student Adam Strickland. Nearing the end of his university studies, he is dumped by his girlfriend for being “somewhere between ‘boring’ and ‘bland’” and is pressured by his father to begin a career in insurance. To make matters worse, the deadline for his thesis paper is looming, the topic of which has gone through several unpromising incarnations. On this last issue, Adam’s professor, Crispin Leonard, offers a solution: an investigation of the Renaissance-era garden at the Tuscan villa of his old friend Signora Docci. Accepting the assignment, Adam departs for Italy with little hint of what is to come, save for Professor Leonard’s cryptic warning about the elderly Signora: “Don’t underestimate her.” It is a warning that proves more prescient than even the professor could have imagined.

David Mills’ The Savage Garden is a novel rich with history, intrigue, and psychological drama. Set in an Italy still recovering from the wounds inflicted by World War II, the novel reveals the troubled history of the Docci family, seemingly cursed by the crimes of its progenitor, Federico Docci, some four centuries earlier. Although his misdeeds were never discovered, Federico’s legacy continues to haunt the modern-day Doccis, who live under the shadow of a similarly heinous act committed at the end of the war. The key to both of these secrets lies frozen in time at the Docci estate: in the memorial garden designed by Federico, unaltered in over four hundred years, and in the sealed-off third floor of the villa, where Signora Docci’s son Emilio met his violent end.

Stepping naively into this world, Adam initially approaches his work as an academic exercise. He begins by dutifully cataloguing curious inconsistencies of the garden, which was ostensibly conceived in memory of Federico’s young wife Flora. Soon, however, these inconsistencies begin to seem more like clues - an elaborate puzzle constructed around Dante’s Inferno and pointing to the true cause of Flora’s death. Signora Docci is delighted by Adam’s work, treating him as an honored guest and sharing stories of the Docci family. But her true motive is to guide Adam to unravel the one story that no one is eager to tell – what really happened on the third floor, and what role the Signora’s son Maurizio played in his brother’s death. As Adam comes closer to uncovering the truth, he attracts the attention of several people who would prefer that the past remain buried – and who are more than willing to bury Adam along with it.



Discussion Questions

  1. Explaining her fondness for the Scottish, Chiara tells Adam that “they were hill people, like the Italians. Hills had names, they had stories attached to them. Peaks and passes had been defended, battles had been fought in their valleys. You couldn’t ignore hills, they seeped into your marrow, they became part of you.” Using this passage as a starting point, discuss the significance of geography and location in the novel.

  2. The novel contains several brief chapters of unattributed dialogue between two people, whom we quickly learn are Signora Docci and Maria. How does the author use these chapters to build tension? What other narrative techniques does he employ? Are they effective?

  3. In the opening and closing passages, Adam thinks back on his life before he left for Villa Docci: “He barely recognized himself… Try as he might, he couldn’t penetrate the working of that stranger’s mind.” In what ways does Adam change through the course of the novel?

  4. Signora Docci describes at great length her father’s self-destructive quest to disprove Darwin’s theories. How does this story connect to the larger themes of the novel?

  5. World War II is a major presence in the story, from the physical destruction caused by the war to the lingering psychological scars of the Nazi occupation of Italy. Discuss the importance of history in the novel. Why did the author choose to set his story in this particular era?

  6. Adam spends the first half of the novel dreading the arrival of his brother, Harry – yet Harry’s presence proves invaluable to Adam’s investigations. Discuss the relationship between the two brothers. Is it significantly changed by the events of the novel, or does it remain fundamentally the same?

  7. The story opens with the first pages of a novel written by Adam’s girlfriend, Gloria. What is the effect of this opening? Does this glimpse of Gloria’s novel offer any clues to the themes of The Savage Garden?

  8. Signora Docci maintains that Professor Leonard had no idea that Emilio was his son. Do you believe this? Is it possible that, in addition to Signora Docci’s manipulation of him, Adam was also used by the professor to discover the truth about Emilio?



Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Berkley Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Code Breaker
    The Code Breaker
    by Walter Isaacson
    What makes humans human? It's a mystery that has inspired philosophers and driven scientific ...
  • Book Jacket: Genesis
    Genesis
    by Guido Tonelli
    Popular science books represent an important niche in non-fiction. They build a bridge between ...
  • Book Jacket: Buses Are a Comin'
    Buses Are a Comin'
    by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
    Charles Person was just 18 years old in 1961 when he became the youngest of the first wave of '...
  • Book Jacket: Firekeeper's Daughter
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Angeline Boulley's young adult novel Firekeeper's Daughter follows 18-year-old Daunis — ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Of Women and Salt
by Gabriela Garcia
A kaleidoscopic portrait of generations of women from a 19th-century Cuban cigar factory to the present day.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Theater for Dreamers
    by Polly Samson

    A spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, artist and muse.

  • Book Jacket

    Ariadne
    by Jennifer Saint

    A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Who Said...

Books are the carriers of civilization

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S I T closet

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.