Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"The Sonnet Lover" by Carol Goodman

Rose Asher has a comfortable if boring life at the ripe old age of 39. She teaches poetry at Hudson College to students who'd rather be making films, and she's having an affair with the university's president, Mark Abrams. It's not exactly the life she envisioned for herself when she studied at La Civetta, a Tuscan villa attached to the college, some 20 years ago. That was the year she was young, ambitious, and hopelessly in love with a student professor, Bruno Brunelli. Unfortunately, that all came to an end with Bruno's announcement that his wife was pregnant, as well as Rose's aunt dying in the States, requiring her presence at home.

Rose has a favorite student as most teachers do, even though Robin Weiss has forsaken his plans of writing poetry in favor of cinematography and directing. Rose is still proud of Robin and he's just returned from studying at La Civetta himself, something that evokes wistful memories on Rose's part. However, it seems that Robin has a secret, one he wishes to share with Rose, if she'll grant him some time. She puts him off until after his student film premiers at an academic gathering, and it proves to be a fatal error for her; Robin is seen arguing with a young man, Orlando Brunelli, and subsequently falls to his death from a balcony. There were several people near the feuding youths, but most agree that Robin either fell accidentally or jumped. Orlando was accusing Robin of stealing something; could it have been the poems attributed to Shakespeare, the ones he wrote to his Dark Lady? Or was Orlando accusing him of something worse, such as plagiarism? Rose is devastated by her student's death, especially after meeting his father. Convinced that Robin was pushed by someone, she reluctantly agrees to travel to Italy and La Civetta with a movie producer to help look for the lost manuscripts; what she really wants is to bring some peace to Robin's father. And maybe to herself.

Upon her arrival, she discovers that not much has changed at the villa, other than the obvious ravages of time upon a once-grand estate. Bruno is still there with his wife, Claudia, and Rose tries to distance herself from her former love, with little success. There are various Hudson employees there, most of them working on the film in some capacity, and almost all of them with something to lose if it's determined that Robin was murdered. Several red herrings are thrown into the plot, but it's not difficult to see who the "bad guys" are. Goodman does a good job describing the Italian scenery, but I was a bit disappointed in her character development this time. Granted, she sticks with a bit of a formula in her books: older professor/teacher/former student with a lost love must solve some sort of mystery involving a younger generation. Much as I wanted to, I didn't feel much for Rose, and I'm not sure why. I don't know if there were too many characters on the canvas for Goodman to fully flesh out our heroine, or if she just wasn't all that heroic. I also found myself wanting to read more about her and Bruno in the present; the rekindled love is barely even mentioned.

Overall, not one of her best works, but still not a bad book. I'm still inclined to read her next work, "The Night Villa", in hopes that it will show her to be back in fine form. If you like poetry, love Italy, and don't mind a bit of a convoluted mystery, "The Sonnet Lover" might be just the ticket.

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