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Santa Montefiore: The Swallow and the Hummingbird

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

NEW FROM Santa Montefiore, whose previous titles include Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree and The Butterfly Box, comes The Swallow and the Hummingbird, a novel that spans two decades and two continents.

It all begins in the spring of 1945, when young George Bolton returns home to the sleepy Devonshire village of Frognal Point - to his childhood sweetheart, Rita Fairweather.

But the boy who joined the RAF has become a man who, though physically unscathed, is emotionally scarred by the horrors of war. Unable to pick up the threads of his life, yet fully intending to return after a year and marry Rita, George heads for the family ranch in Argentina.

The Swallow and the Humming Bird is beautifully written and, in an uncomplicated and wonderfully descriptive text, captures the essence of two completely contrasting worlds - Frognal Point, the quintessential English coastal village with its cliffs, beach and rock pools and Argentina with its endless, long- grass plains or pampa.

The latter does, in fact, owe much to Montefiore's personal experience of the country, as well as 'the colourful stories' that, by her own admission, she 'ruthlessly poached' from her Anglo-Argentine mother.

Consequently, you can almost feel the heat, smell the eucalyptus and gardenia, even taste the sharpness of mate that even honey cannot mask.

The characters too, are highly plausible and are, for the most part, ordinary down-to-earth folk; the exceptions being the larger-than-life, Jose Antonio and Mrs Megalith, megagran to Rita, whose 'awesome personality' and gift of second sight, earn her the reputation of being a witch.

But it's through Mrs Megalith and the two young Austrian refugees, Max and Ruth, that we are poignantly reminded of the persecution of the Jewish race, during World War II.

Susan, however, is quite another matter. Sadly, her aura of mystery evaporates all too soon, leaving her character bereft and certainly one of missed opportunities. As for the story behind the scar, frankly it's disappointing.

And appealing though it is, Montefiore's depiction of an after-life does, ultimately, undermine the story's credibilty and therefore, would have been best avoided. And do robins really nest in mid-winter?

That said, The Swallow and the Hummingbird has much to commend it and is an extremely good read - the sort of book that's hard to put down.

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