The best thing I can say about The Grotto is also the worst thing, and that is I was able to read a bunch of books in my TBR pile during the time I was reading this one. I found I could take it only in small doses. It’s not the writing, either; it’s the dark and foreboding tone of this book. I’d never lend it to a depressed friend because it could send her over the edge.
Contesse Caterina Donati is an American living in Italy, where she came to make a great match with an Italian count. Five years later she is newly widowed and in a jam. While not sorry to be rid of her creepy, sadistic husband, Pietro, she is sorry that he spent her inheritance, leaving her with next to nothing. Her father, after selling her down the river to the Conte Donati, managed to drown on his way back to America. “Kate” is alone in the world with only a dilapidated seaside villa to her infamous name.
Villa Falcone is spooky and reputed to be cursed, but Kate feels like she’ll have to make it a productive home for herself. This is just the first of many things that make no sense in the story. Kate should have looked into selling this place and hightailing it back to the good ole’ USA, but she doesn’t, because the rest of this downer of a story couldn’t be told if she did, so…
She sets up housekeeping in the villa with just her faithful majordomo, Alfiero, and - you guessed it - a spooky housekeeper, Maria. No one else will have anything to do with her because her husband’s family was cruel and spooky. So Kate has the daunting task of putting the villa to rights with the work of her own hands.
But here she gets unexpected help from a gorgeous, mysterious stranger, Roberto Vela. Although he’s not quite spooky, his conversation with Kate is cryptic to the point of being ridiculous. Roberto prowls around straining the seams of his shirts and trying my patience. Full of innuendo and double entendre, his manner of speech goes something like this:
“Tuscan land is like a woman…She must be treated right, plowed and then watered, nourished in her growing season to bring out her full ripeness.”
I got tired of their conversations very quickly
Kate spends a lot of time wondering what’s going on and her thoughts are often silly. Even though Roberto is barely civil to her, his physical appearance distracts her from this fact. When he does decide to be the least bit friendly, she has this sad reaction:
“Something was happening to her, something she had not expected. She would have described herself as happy, but since she had no idea how that particular emotion felt, she could easily be wrong.”
Readers never get to know much about what the rest of the characters are thinking since there is virtually no real character development to be found. Very mysterious, yes, but also a drag when several folks skulk around, ominously spouting their sparse lines.
Kate and Roberto establish a weird relationship, which is later revealed to be “love”. If they cared so much for each other, they perhaps should have dealt more honestly with each other. I would hazard a guess that they are destined to have some communication snafus over the long run. She frequently tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, which I don’t doubt. If he would just tell her what his intentions are in the first place, he would eliminate three quarters of the book, something I would have appreciated.
However, Roberto has something going for him that Kate does understand. She jumps his bones whenever she gets a chance. These scenes are the highlight of the book but I was so detached that I barely cared.
The Grotto includes one of the most superfluous epilogues I’ve come across. In the space of about six pages, the plot branches out in several directions in an effort at bringing closure to the stories of the characters who are left hanging at the end.
If you are looking for some summer fun, pass on The Grotto and visit your local water theme park instead. You’ll get a more satisfying experience with the watery tunnels offered there.