High hopes, I had them. Unfortunately The House by the Sea (or The Mermaid Garden if you're in the US) was another time when the book didn't quite live up to the hugely positive reviews written about the internet. Montefiore's (which is a surname I love) novel is not a total let-down, but it wasn't quite 'unforgettable'.The House by the Sea is another novel where there is a split time period within it. The majority of the action takes place in contemporary England in Devon; where middle-aged Marina lives with her husband and two stepchildren and runs a hotel. When the novel flips back we are in 1960s-1970s Italy, where Floriana, the daughter of a drunkard whose mother and brother have long left, falls for Dante, the son of a wealthy family. Whilst I really enjoyed the contemporary plot, I wasn't quite so enamoured with the past section-especially once I guessed where the novel was going. This meant that I'd be really into the novel, until I hit the 'historical' section when my desire to pick the book up again ground to a halt. Although I don't know all that much about Italian history or culture, it did strike me as strange that class boundaries would still be so important in the late 20th century-it felt as though I was reading a story set considerably earlier.Whilst I was not really fond of any of the characters in the historical section, although I felt that Montefiore built the romance between Floriana and Dante really well, the contemporary tale characters were really interesting. Marina's history is revealed as the novel progresses and it is interesting to see how this impacts her choices and decisions in the modern tale. I also actually really liked Clementine, Marina's stepdaughter I got the feeling that sometimes Montefiore was attempting to make her a little too antagonistic and unlikeable, when really I think I would probably share some of her reactions-especially in terms of the fact that Marina and her father married so soon after the break up of her parents marriage. The colourful older ladies who come to the hotel to learn to paint, Clemetine's boss the philandering Mr Atwood and Harvey, the odd-job man who serves as a surrogate father to Marina are all also really interesting characters that are well-formed. In fact, the only character that I wasn't crazy about was Rafa, the love interest and mysterious Argentine painter-in-residence at the hotel. I just did not buy that a man in his early thirties could be quite so spiritual and deep; he seemed far too perfect to be believable, almost acting like the Disney Mary Poppins in bringing a family back together.Montefiore's writing style is fairly simple, although her descriptions really bring both settings to life very well. She also wound slightly deeper ideas, about life philosophies and relationships, into the novel with some success. I think I would like to give Montefiore another chance, because I did really like the the one story strand, and I already own a copy of The Last Voyage of the Valentina. Just maybe this time I'll go into the novel with slightly less high expectations.