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
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
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
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.