When Sophie Taylor’s life falls apart, there is only one thing to do: escape and find a new one.
Dragged to Montenegro by her best friend Anna, Sophie begins to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. But when she stumbles into an old, run-down house on the Bay of Kotor she surprises even herself when she buys it.
Surrounded by old furniture, left behind by the former inhabitants, Sophie becomes obsessed by a young Balkan couple when she discovers a bundle of letters from the 1940s in a broken roll-top desk. Letters that speak of great love, hope and a mystery Sophie can’t help but get drawn into.
Days in Montenegro are nothing like she expected and as Sophie’s home begins to fill with a motley crew of lodgers the house by the bay begins to breathe again. And for Sophie, life seems to be restarting. But letting go of the past is easier said than done…
Having already been tempted to buy this author’s previous book, I was equally smitten not only by the enticing cover, but by the premise of the story. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed. It’s a story that will by turns tug at the heartstrings; make you smile; make you hope; and by the end, will have totally pulled you into the lives of the inhabitants past and present of the ‘stone house’ on the Bay of Kotor.
Buying a house was the last thing on Sophie’s mind, when she found herself being dragged round an old house with her friend Annie and a hopeful estate agent, during a respite break to Montenegro. But something about the house and its history, combined with a need to escape her own reality, suddenly makes the idea seem less unrealistic. After Sophie moves in, she finds her life changed, by the lodgers she acquires – the jobbing builder Frank, the elderly sailor Irene; scatty artist friend and single mum to Tomasz, Anna and finally the troubled war photojournalist Ton. But the locals and neighbours also play their part in helping her feel part of her new community, not least local taxi driver Petar and his wife Sandra, and the tall attractive lawyer and translator Darko.
But this story is about far more than following Sophie on her journey forward. It’s a mystery and a love story set in the past between two of the previous inhabitants of the house Mira and her husband Dragan. Theirs is a story that sadly would have replicated the story for many Montenegrins, during the Italian occupation and civil unrest during WWII. The area of Kotor (Cattaro) in particular was annexed to Italy because of its small Venetian speaking population, largely due to the Queen of Italy being the daughter of the former King of Montenegro.
I must say, I’d be tempted to move there as well. While I might pass on the crumbling house (until it had been suitably renovated) I was totally taken by the description of the town and the people. Never having been to Montenegro, or knowing much about it, this book has certainly piqued my interest. The back story of the wartime occupation added an interesting if very poignant aspect to the story, which gave it another dimension. But it was also very much a story of the present as we get to know Sophie and her household. It felt at times like the house attracted its own inhabitants, all in some way needing their own makeover and renovation to make them complete. As the house was gradually restored and the gardens rejuvenated, similarly Sophie and her ‘motley crew’ also find their own restorative healing.
I was totally transported and involved with all aspects of the storyline. The characters are realistic and believable, especially Sophie who is someone you just want to hug and tell her it will all be OK. Real life of course, doesn’t come with that certainty and that makes the book a compulsive read to find out exactly how things will turn out. The back story of WWII and the more recent civil wars are a reminder that on the whole wars solve nothing but result in atrocities, divisions and memories that will haunt generations.
This is a heartwarming story, beautifully told and I have no hesitation recommending it.
I received an ecopy via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.