The Silent Fountain
When I read the blurb for Victoria Fox’s latest novel, The Silent Fountain, it seemed like something I would absolutely adore. It’s set in Tuscany with a super creepy old house at its center, and it moves back and forth in time between the 1970’s and 2016. I couldn’t wait to begin, but once I got started, it soon became obvious the story would be more of a disappointment than anything else.
Lucy Whittaker needs to get out of London fast. She’s done something terrible, and she’s desperate to get away before anyone can link her to it. But leaving London means leaving the man she loves, a man who just so happens to be married to another woman, and Lucy’s not sure she can tear herself away from him. But when she learns of a job opening as a maid at the Castillo Barbarossa, a mansion in Tuscany, Lucy decides this is just the opportunity she needs to start a new life. So, she drops everything and heads to Italy, determined to make a complete break from everyone and everything that once mattered to her.
Once she arrives, it soon becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right at the Castillo Barbarossa. First off, her employer is nowhere in sight. She is met at the door by a housekeeper who gives her a tour and explains the many rules of the house. Lucy is pretty sure she’ll have trouble following all of them, and I was tempted to agree with her. She’s not to ask questions about anyone who lived or worked in the house before her. She must never venture into the attic or the west wing, and, above all, she must never bother the lady of the house unless, of course, that esteemed personage sends for her. Despite her misgivings, Lucy agrees to follow these rules to the best of her ability and starts settling in.
Things go pretty well for the first few days until Lucy spends her day off in the nearby village. While there, she is approached by a young man who pleads with her to find out what happened to his aunt, who had once worked for the Barbarossa and disappeared under mysterious circumstances. At first, Lucy refuses to help, explaining that she isn’t willing to risk her job by poking around in her employer’s business, but her curiosity eventually gets the best of her and she agrees.
Lucy’s story is interspersed with that of Vivien Lockhart, an aspiring Hollywood actress of the 1970’s. We’re given the impression Vivien’s life has been far from good up until this point, but Ms. Fox doesn’t give us much in the way of details. It’s more an impression of deep unhappiness on Vivien’s part without any concrete evidence to back up that idea. But things finally seem to be looking up for Vivien when she meets the mysterious and handsome Giovanni Moretti. The two are wildly attracted to one another and they embark on a whirlwind courtship. But even as Vivien becomes ever more certain that Giovanni is the man of her dreams, secrets from his past threaten to ruin their newfound happiness.
Had the actual story been as compelling as its description, I would have been firmly hooked. Unfortunately, what I read was a rather jumbled mess that bore only the slightest resemblance to what I had hoped for, based on the synopsis. Ms. Fox tells us far more than she actually shows us, and, on the rare occasions I did feel being told something would be helpful, she was super stingy with details, making it all but impossible to make sense of certain sequences of events.
I was also expecting a lot more of a mystery than I actually got. The identity of Lucy’s employer, for example, is supposed to be shrouded in mystery, but I figured it out almost from the first. True, I read a lot of mysteries, but I’d have liked that element of the plot to have been less obvious. The same is true of the reason behind Lucy’s hasty flight from London. The author alludes to this horrific thing Lucy has done, and I took the bait, imagining all manner of awful misdeeds, but when the truth was finally revealed, I felt cheated. What she did definitely wasn’t good, but neither was it as catastrophic as Ms. Fox had led me to believe.
Despite my dislike of the story itself, I must give Ms. Fox props for the sense of place with which she imbued the pages of the novel. I’m a sucker for exotic locations, and the Tuscan countryside is one of the lushest and most beautiful I can imagine. Ms. Fox brings it to life in all its glory so that I almost felt like I was there, and I count that a great accomplishment on the author’s part.
Because of its many flaws, The Silent Fountain is not a novel I can recommend. There are plenty of great books out there, and I urge you to give this one a pass and move on to something more worthy of your time and attention.