"A haunting debut novel . . . Filled with secrets, love, betrayal, obsession, and deceit, The Art of Devotion is a beautifully rendered window into one family's dark and complex history on an island in the Mediterranean Sea from the turn of the century until the late 1930s." Hamptons.com
The Art of Devotionby Samantha Bruce-Benjamin
Have we all not wished to keep forever the one person we love the
In the tradition of bestselling authors Ian McEwan and Anne Enright, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin’s brilliant and timeless debut unveils the dark side of human nature as four women share the poignant tale of love, obsession, and ultimate betrayal that binds them forever.
Have we all not wished to keep forever the one person we love the most?
The secluded beaches of a sun-drenched Mediterranean island are the perfect playground for young Sebastian and Adora. Emotionally adrift from their mother, Adora shelters her sensitive older brother
from the cruelties of the world. Sophie does not question her children’s intense need for one another until it’s too late. Her beloved son’s affections belong to Adora, and when he drowns in the sea, she has no one else to blame.
Still heartbroken years later, Adora fills her emptiness with Genevieve, the precocious young daughter of her husband’s business associate and his jealous wife, Miranda. Thrilled to be invited into the beautiful and enigmatic Adora’s world, the child idolizes her during their summers together. Yet, as the years progress, Genevieve begins to suspect their charmed existence is nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion. Soon, she too is ensnared in a web of lies.
Stunningly told in the tragic voices of four women whose lives are fatefully entangled, The Art of Devotion is evocative and haunting, a story of deceit, jealousy, and the heartbreaking reality of love’s true power.
- Pocket Books
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Read an Excerpt
For each of us, there is a moment: what we see at the last, before God closes our eyes forever; an entire existence distilled to one perfect memory. We anticipate its promise all our lives.
Some are entirely unprepared for the joy that dances through their souls and wince with regret at everything they missed during those final seconds. Others peacefully acknowledge something they long suspected but never truly realized, content to venture into the night enlightened. And then there are those, like me, who know exactly what they will see, who welcome the end for the privilege it will contain. Yes, for each of us, there is a moment. This is mine:
They are there in front of me on the beach. A tiny boy and a tiny girl bronzed from the sun, their hair white-blond. At the edge of the shore they stand, holding hands. They are singing a rhyme I have taught them in French: Odeur du temps brin de bruyÉre/Et souviens-toi que je t’attends. Fragrance of time sprig of heather/Remember I wait for you forever. They sing the song every time a wave approaches, attempting to jump over it before it breaks against the sand. My daughter invented the game, and my son, as ever, is content to play with her. Not simply content, ecstatic. They are childhood personified, childhood as it should be. They are the innocents of the world. They are laughing. They turn to each other and squeal with excitement every time they jump. Their curls fly up in the air as they ascend and fall over their eyes when they land. Odeur du temps brin de bruyÉre/Et souviens-toi que je t’attends. Fragrance of time sprig of heather/Remember I wait for you forever.
I call to them from the balcony of the HÔtel des Anges that it is time to go home for their nap. She looks at me over her shoulder, a familiar look of mischief in her eyes, and tightens her grip on my son’s hand. He would have come to me. She will not let him. And what is the harm? Why not let them play until they are so exhausted they can barely stay awake? They are only children. This is, after all, their time. Up and down they go, completely oblivious to me or any of the other assembled guests on the veranda, entranced by their game.
Sebastian is six, older by two years, but still he waits for Adora to jump before he follows. I can see his little legs shaking while he waits for her cue, afraid that he might ruin the game by leaping too soon, remaining throughout a beat behind her. His face floods with relief as he lands, but he does not look to me for praise or encouragement to try again, only to her. The sun moves down in the west of the sky as the game continues. It will stop only when she decrees it so.
I sit there, my hand resting on my parasol, basking in the glow conferred by my children, so exquisite they eclipse all others. I feel the residual heat of the day slip away like a silk cover being pulled carefully and slowly from my body, the breeze kissing my cheeks as dusk approaches. I care little for the murmurs emanating from the more staid American tourists who have stopped on our island as part of their Grand Tour. It’s not quite proper, don’t you think? Really, their nanny should bring them in. Most of the visitors seated around me are as transfixed by my children as I am. Yet as much as I want to linger on, I reluctantly check my complacency when I realize that it is growing late and their father and I are dining with friends this evening. I call to them again to come in, knowing I should insist, but something stops me. Something in my daughter’s eyes, as she turns toward me, framed by the dusk beyond, stops me.
It is thirty-five years since I watched them play on our island in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet it doesn’t seem possible that I am no longer that enviable woman sitting on the balcony of the most exclusive hotel in Europe in 1905, unquestioning of who I was, my morality, my judgment. Life then had done nothing so cruel that I could not recover. I considered everything I had ever been given to be a right and not a privilege. Not for me to toss in my bed at night asking myself, What have I done? That would come later.
The memory of that afternoon is my sanctuary now. It is all I have left. I watch my children play in front of me as if the illusion were real, as if I could reach out and touch them, as if I could change everything; as if I am still their mother.
For the rest of my son’s brief life, my daughter’s lead was the only one he would follow. Hers was the understanding heart he sought, her soul a soothing refuge for his pain. If he wandered, he returned to her. When he was lost, she found him. Since time immemorial there was no precedent for the love they owned. Few could possibly mine the unspoken depths of their affection or the secrets they shared. They were born for one another.
Neither knew how to live without the other. Neither did.
© 2010 Samantha Bruce-Benjamin
Meet the Author
Samantha Bruce-Benjamin was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she earned a Masters Degree in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh. A former BBC Editor, she began her editorial career at Random House. She now lives in New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I love this book. I couldn't put it down. I'm biased as I love period novels. The writing is smart and beautiful, almost lyrical. It definitely reminds me of Ian McEwan's Atonement. It's set between 1919-38. I really like how the narrative is told between the women in the novel, telling their story from each perspective. The novel is built on the characters and their psyche, which are all interesting and complex. Most of them aren't what they seem. Everyone seems to be hiding something. A particular woman, Adora, is the most disturbing one of all. She's hiding something terrible from her past, and the way it is written makes the reader want more because only small hints are revealed throughout the book of what happened. Figuring out her past, will lead to figuring out what's going to happen next. Just when I thought I had it all solved, I was wrong. Betrayal, deceit, secrets slowly revealed themselves and I stayed up all night to finish it!
The Art of Devotion September 5 2010 Samantha Bruce Benjamin Definitely have mixed feelings about this book. There were parts where it was quite confusing about what time period we reading about. There was a lot of fantasy in that no one lives the way these people seemed to unless they were quite rich and they didn't seem to know what was going on in the rest of the world at this time period. I did enjoy figuring out how all of the people in the book fit together. Parts of the book I didn't figure out until the end. So it did make me read the whole book so I knew what was happening.
"Samantha Bruce-Benjamin 's novel "The Art of Devotion" could also be titled "The Art of Deception", for in it, devotion is not so much an art as an obsession. There are many kinds of love and what may appear beautiful on the surface may have a dark underside. The author alternately uses the voices of four women whose lives are entwined to tell this complex story of love and devotion, lies and obsession, happiness and despair. At the heart of the story is beautiful Adora 's relationships with the people she loves - her brother Sebastian, her husband Oliver and her godchild Genevieve. As the story unfolds, the secrets that lie beneath these and other relationships reveal that love is not always gentle, not always kind, not always loving."
The Art of Devotion by Samantha Bruce-Benjamin is haunting... The prose is beautifully rendered on the page, like a love letter written to the reader... The women who fill the pages of The Art of Devotion struggle for your empathy as each reveals their hidden fears, betrayals, hopes and obsessions... and by the end of the story, their story, we are swept up into their lives. The novel itself is unique in that the story is told from four points of view. Sophie, Adora, Miranda and Genev...more The Art of Devotion by Samantha Bruce-Benjamin is haunting... The prose is beautifully rendered on the page, like a love letter written to the reader... The women who fill the pages of The Art of Devotion struggle for your empathy as each reveals their hidden fears, betrayals, hopes and obsessions... and by the end of the story, their story, we are swept up into their lives. The novel itself is unique in that the story is told from four points of view. Sophie, Adora, Miranda and Genevieve are the three generations of women that tell their story, unfolding it by alternating passages, almost like pages in a diary. At first I thought that having the four alternating narrators was just to establish the beginning of the story and the voices of the different women, but as the story continued that way, I found it an interesting way to read a story. Instead of having to guess the motivations of one of the other women involved in a particular circumstance, I was able to peek into their thoughts soon enough when it was their turn to "speak". The characters are fleshed out and well developed, and the empathy you will start to feel for them individually is the result of their lives coming to life on the page. Samantha Bruce-Benjamin does a wonderful job creating such strong believable women. And their lives are so entangled with one another too! There is more than one twist and turn to their stories. Secret liaisons and relationships are slowly revealed over the course of the novel, along with betrayals, that will having you devouring the pages for more! The setting for the novel is the beautiful Mediterranean, and the story has that carefree feeling to it. We are allowed to enjoy the women and not be concerned with the mundane of day-to-day living. The interactions between Sophie, Adora, Miranda and Genevieve are steeped in deep emotion, spanning 20 years of their lives, from young girls (in the case of Adora, Miranda and eventually Genevieve) to mature women, and the results are haunting. Even after finishing the book I am still thinking about those women and the choices they made. Not to give too much away, but the prologue meant so much more to me after I finished the book, and I would recommend going back and reading it again after you finish too! I would definitely recommend The Art of Devotion by Samantha Bruce-Benjamin! For it's beautiful writing, memorable characters and its intriguing story. And those 4 women were so interesting to get to know!
On a sun-kissed island, two beautiful children play in the waves. Sebastian and Adora are not twins, although many mistake these children with their golden curls and piercing blue eyes for twins. Brother and sister who are two years apart, they are fiercely devoted to each other and need no one else. Even their mother Sophie feels excluded, although she knows she should not be jealous of their closeness. The book then moves to thirty years in the future and follows the relationships of this family, and another that they are intertwined with. Adora has married Oliver. They have no children of their own, but she has emotionally stolen Genevieve, the daughter of her husband's best friends, James and Miranda. Genevieve spends every summer with Adora and is now entering adulthood. She meets Jack, and her love for Adora is changed as she finds first love with him. Samantha Bruce Benjamin explores the many facets of devotion. There is devotion between siblings, between mother and daughter, between lovers, between friends and between adults and the children they foster. Not all devotion is positive, and Benjamin explores the dark side of this emotion also. The book is told through the voices of the women involved, moving back and forth from one to the other. As each speaks of the summer that exists, and the years leading up to the events of that summer, the reader is taken on a road of discovery, as each event is told from multiple views and secrets and betrayals are revealed. This book is recommended for all readers. It is compelling. The writing is lyrical and what seems a gentle book constantly surprises as the plot twists are revealed. The author has created one of the most memorable villians I've found, or have the motives of the villian been misinterpreted? Readers of The Art Of Devotion will be thinking about what happened long after they close the covers of this book.
I LOVED this book. If you like period books like Rebecca and The Great Gatsby, you should definitely buy this. The writing is beautiful, very lyrical, and I loved how it was told by four different narrators who are all hiding secrets, so you're never sure who to trust. Just when you think you have it figured out, you don't. As soon as I started reading, I couldn't put it down. I gave it to my friend once I'd finished and the exact same thing happened. The characters don't leave you. Long after the book is finished, they stay with you and you can't say that about many books. I would read this again, it was so good.
The best book I have ever read, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin's writing is so unique and beautiful that you simply cannot compare it to any other author in any way. You become lost in the story and I simply could not put the book down. The setting being the Mediterranean, the beautiful characters, all of which are very individual but touch you in different ways, and the story itself transfixes you in a world away from your own, but in a world that is so believable, as at some point in our lives we have all loved, lost, been lied to, felt happiness, experienced disappointment and we've all adored that special someone. A must-read!