In this striking debut novel, set in turn-of-the-century Queensland, Australia, the villa that strong-willed, enigmatic Marini Moran, ne Grau, designs and builds on the banks of a waterfall on her magnificent sugarcane plantation is the final straw tempting fate to step in and turn her controlled, carefully constructed world end over end. Her marriage to Dom Moran, the Irishman brought barely alive out of the bush by aborigines, has been emotionally sundered by the arrival of his younger brother, Michael, a World War I veteran, and finally destroyed by Dom's opium habit and his infidelities. When the guilt-ridden Michael departs, leaving Marini emotionally rudderless, all she has is the exquisite Villa Marini; her first-born; Joel; and Rosemary, the baby she scorns. Reading like a one-volume version of Lawrence Durrell's classic Alexandria Quartet, this novel offers spare, poetic prose; vibrant characters; and strong sense of time, place, and space that combine forcefully to create a unique literary experience. A book to reread and savor, and a new author to watch.Jo Manning, Miami Beach, Fla.
A first novel with a lush Australian setting that charts the predictable rise and fall of a strong andwhat else?beautiful woman undone by loveand by a schematic plot.
When Mariano Grau arrives in North Queensland, Australia, with small daughter Marini in tow, he ends a journey that began in his native Spain. In Cuba, he had grown sugar until the Yankees ousted the Spanish; then, still mourning the loss of his beautiful wife Guillermina, who died soon after Marini's birth, as well as the death of his first-born son, Mariano, he wandered the world until he reached Queensland. There, he starts to grow cane as he did in Cuba, dreams of building a fine villa, and sends Marini to the local convent school. It's in the convent that Marini, now 17, nurses a mysteriously ill Irishman, Dominic Moran, who's been rescued from Aborigine cannibals. When her father is accidentally killed, Marini decides to marry the convalescing Dominic, the idea being that he will help her fulfill her father's aspirations. Soon, Marinia dynamo who cuts cane with the men, defies strikers by driving a locomotive, and faces down any male chauvinist who dares to question heris rich enough to build the splendid villa her father dreamed of. She is also the mother of an adored son, Joel. Things are going too well, in fact, so of course they must fall apart: Dominic smokes opium; Marini has an affair with his brother Michael, who has moved in with them; she gives birth to handicapped Rosemary; and on the night they all celebrate Joel's coming of age, fate delivers the ultimate blowbarely credible in the context. All of which and more is explained in a bathetic ending as both Marini and her villa fade away.
A not-so-familiar landscape gives Montero's story some edge but not enough. More hype than heart.