Did the opening page “snag” you and how did you feel when you realized the difference between the opening and the actual story?

Did you know what a marrow was?  How many of you looked it up?  A marrow is a British term for an elongated squash with dark green skin and white flesh…

Pg 15: When Mills mentions “Metamorphosis” and “Fasti” (books) did it jog your memory of having read them?  If so, did this excite you that this ancient info would come into use…finally?

There were plenty of new words:
                        Parterre – a formal garden structure on level ground

By PG 57: did you find yourself bridging this story with Suite Francaise (an earlier WMBC book read) and the war?

Pg 70: Antonella’s cranial ridge – what did you think of it and how it might or might not relate to Frederico’s Sumatra/Borneo research of the orangutans?


What of all the Greek mythology and Italian history?  Did it rekindle prior knowledge?  What did you think was different about it?  What about the mention of Dantes Inferno?  How did you think this was all going to come into play to solve Flora’s murder?

Pg 138:  “Savage Garden” mentioned for the first time.

Pg 140: reference to “paradise lost”.

Pg 142: Photo of orangutan lashed to a rail.  Did this remind you of King Kong?  Kin Kong was first shown in 1933 and hailed from fictional “Skull Island”.  Federico Docci lived from 1890 – 1920…is there a date out of order here, as wasn’t the garden laid out in 1577?

Also there are 1921 photos of Signora Docci, Benedetto, Emillio, Maurizio, and Antonella’s mother – Caterina. 

Fratricide??  Latin…the act of killing one’s brother.

Pg 256: Caterina (mother) says Antonella was “selvaggia”…a little savage.

What did you think of the few romantic/sex scenes?  Did they add anything to the story?  Could it have been as good without it?

Pg 268: So did you think the water running through the fountains and pools were important to the overall solving of the garden’s secrets?  “Flora had spoken.  Adam could hear what she was saying.”  Well Flora had not spoken!!  Francesca Docci had in her letter!
Pg 324: In the end did knowing who Flora’s lover was make or have any difference on the story’s mystery?

Publisher’s Discussion Questions:                                 Penguin Books, Internet

  1. Did you find the map at the beginning of the novel helpful? If so, would you have preferred a map of Italy as well? Or, perhaps, sketches of the statues and the mythological scenarios?
  2. Do you think Harry’s character exists only for comic relief or does he offer some insight and depth to the storyline of the novel?
  3. Comments made by Professor Leonard such as “Francesca Signora Docci…she’s old now, and frail by all accounts. But don’t underestimate her” as early as on page 16 serve as foreshadowing. What other instances of foreshadowing appear in the book? Are they all equally effective?
  4. The author touches upon the theme of closure numerous times throughout the novel—from a 300-year old murder to the death of Emilio to Adam’s father’s infidelity. How important is closure within the frame of the book’s world?
  5. Adam and Antonella first take a tour of the garden in Chapter 8. On page 71 Mills makes the following statement as the two make their way into the temple: “The building was dedicated to Echo, the unfortunate nymph who fell hard for Narcissus. He, too preoccupied with his own beauty, spurned her attentions, whereupon Echo, heartbroken, faded away until only her voice remained.” This scenario seems to metaphorically describe Adam and Antonella’s relationship at the end of the novel: Adam too preoccupied with solving the mystery and she, heartbroken and speechless with only a letter in hand. In what ways does the author utilize this paralleling with his other characters and mythological creatures?
  6. Did you find the novel’s ending to be anti-climactic? Was Maurizio’s guilt evident too early on in the novel?
  7. Although The Savage Garden is a mystery novel, romance plays a large role throughout the story. What positive or negative effects does this have on your experience and opinion of the novel?
  8. Mills makes numerous references to literary classics such a Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Machiavelli’s Il Principe. Although he explains their significance to the plot, do you feel that having read those works in full could lead to a different, more in-depth perspective on The Savage Garden?
  9. Toward the end of Francesca’s letter to Adam she says, “I meant what I said to you just before we sat down to dinner at the party. I asked you then to remember my words. Do you? I hope so, because they are as true as any I have ever spoken.” What exactly were Francesca’s words?
  10. History, specifically the history of World War II and other major battles, have a strong presence throughout the novel. Discuss how including these battles affect the novel. Could the author have set The Savage Garden following another battle without losing the effect?
  11. Do you feel that there is a deeper meaning behind the reveal of Emilio being Professor Leonard’s son? Or do you think perhaps the author has included this as simply another issue for the characters to overcome?











  1. Explaining her fondness for the Scottish, Chiara tells Adam that “they were hill people, like the Italians. Hills had names, they had stories attached to them. Peaks and passes had been defended, battles had been fought in their valleys. You couldn’t ignore hills, they seeped into your marrow, they became part of you.” Using this passage as a starting point, discuss the significance of geography and location in the novel. 


  1. The novel contains several brief chapters of unattributed dialogue between two people, whom we quickly learn are Signora Docci and Maria. How does the author use these chapters to build tension? What other narrative techniques does he employ? Are they effective? 
  1. In the opening and closing passages, Adam thinks back on his life before he left for Villa Docci: “He barely recognized himself… Try as he might, he couldn’t penetrate the working of that stranger’s mind.” In what ways does Adam change through the course of the novel? 


  1. Signora Docci describes at great length her father’s self-destructive quest to disprove Darwin’s theories. How does this story connect to the larger themes of the novel? 
  1. World War II is a major presence in the story, from the physical destruction caused by the war to the lingering psychological scars of the Nazi occupation of Italy. Discuss the importance of history in the novel. Why did the author choose to set his story in this particular era? 


  1. Adam spends the first half of the novel dreading the arrival of his brother, Harry – yet Harry’s presence proves invaluable to Adam’s investigations. Discuss the relationship between the two brothers. Is it significantly changed by the events of the novel, or does it remain fundamentally the same? 
  1. The story opens with the first pages of a novel written by Adam’s girlfriend, Gloria. What is the effect of this opening? Does this glimpse of Gloria’s novel offer any clues to the themes of The Savage Garden? 


  1. Signora Docci maintains that Professor Leonard had no idea that Emilio was his son. Do you believe this? Is it possible that, in addition to Signora Docci’s manipulation of him, Adam was also used by the professor to discover the truth about Emilio?