Friday, May 7, 2010

On Revisiting the Past: Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

(In which the truth will indeed set one free.)


“What’s with people and their obsession with the past?”


For most books, I have to get past through the first chapters before I can get into the novel. With Santa Montefiore’s novel, Last Voyage of the Valentina, it took me almost half the book to totally get a better feeling. I found the protagonist – Alba Arbuckle – complicated but somehow understandable. She never knew her mother, Valentina, and no one in the family wants to talk about her. She sought comfort in the arms of different men. She led a promiscuous life out of boredom. She hated her father and stepmother for depriving her of her mother’s memories. She hated them for making her feel that she doesn’t belong and that no one wants to talk about her past so she intended to find the truth that they’ve been hiding from her on her own. And with the discovery came the realization of a dark past and the understanding of why no one wants to bring it back.

Reading the first half of the book is a long journey. Yet after the difficult part, the mystery of a failed romance set in the picturesque shores of Incantellaria during WW2 was enough to keep a reader hanging. The middle part of the story was written patiently; each element of the mystery slowly coming into view along with the memories. However, the main aspect of Valentina’s death was unclear to me: How did it happen? The account of her death was left missing. It would have been better if all angles were made clear to the reader. Not fully knowing how incidents took place gave this novel a feel of incompleteness, and worse, it seemed that the last part of the book was rushed. It seemed like the writer was just anxious to let Alba know and “solve” the mystery of her mother’s death.

After finding out the truth, Alba realized that she has to change. And she did. This part of the novel made me remember the clichés found in soap operas. But, it’s better than having Alba wallowing in the darkness she has discovered and continue to live in her decadent lifestyle or live in abhorrence. At least she understood that she needs to let go and start anew.

The ending wasn’t something I expected. I am not sure whether it’s good or bad but it made me smile. The way it was written was reminiscent as if there was a cycle to be fulfilled. However, because of the change in Alba I believe her story won’t end the way Valentina’s did.

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