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The Savage Garden Reader’s Guide

By Mark Mills

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills


Questions and Topics for Discussion


Mark Mills is a screenwriter; among his credits is the script for The Reckoning, adapted from Barry Unsworth’s novel Morality Play. Mills lives with his family and is at work on his second novel.


  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • Did you find the novel’s ending to be anti-climactic? Was Maurizio’s guilt evident too early on in the novel?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • History, specifically the history of World War II and other major battles, have a strong prensence 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?
  • 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?
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