In her fifth novel, Elin Hilderbrand once again uses her home, the island of Nantucket, as the setting for a story of complicated love. A reclusive former chef named Marguerite and her impetuous teenaged goddaughter are the main characters. Their lives are so very different yet entwined. Marguerite understands the mysterious circumstances of best friend Candace's death that Renata's father keeps a secret.
College freshman Renata has just become engaged to Cade Driscoll, a young man whose wealthy family has a summer place on Nantucket. While Cade and Renata are visiting his family, Renata is determined to locate her godmother, Marguerite, whom she has not seen in the 14 years since her mother's death. Renata's father, Dan, has long discouraged contact with Marguerite. Renata realizes that Dan harbors bad feelings toward Candace's old friend, but Renata wants to know about her mother --- what she was like, how she died, why Dan refuses to discuss his late wife, and why Marguerite was banished from Renata's life.
Renata calls Marguerite and arranges to visit her. Though Marguerite is delighted about seeing Renata once again, she is quite anxious because the tormenting secret she has guarded for so long will be revealed. Marguerite becomes engrossed in planning a gourmet dinner for Renata. It will be the first time she has cooked in many years. The meal must be perfect in every aspect, even though it means Marguerite has to leave the security and comfort of her home to shop for fresh ingredients.
Folks in Nantucket have rarely seen Marguerite since Candace died. Marguerite, they whisper, is crazy. They refer to her being like van Gogh --- tortured, depressed, self-destructive. After Candace died Marguerite closed her highly successful restaurant and effectively disappeared from sight.
Renata is easily influenced --- by her assertive roommate at college and by Cade and his mother, both of whom seem determined to make all the decisions for her. Truth be told, Renata is immature and impulsive, not at all ready to settle down and marry. She reluctantly tells her father about her engagement, knowing full well that he will disapprove and possibly even forbid it.
Bored and annoyed that Cade has gone sailing with his father and left her to amuse herself, Renata goes to the beach with Miles, an employee of the Driscolls, and Sallie. While Sallie heads for the ocean with her surfboard, Miles and Renata head for the privacy of the dunes.
Renata cancels their dinner plans but promises to visit Marguerite the next morning. Cade and Renata argue heatedly. Renata's father arrives unexpectedly on the island and will be at the Driscolls' soon. Renata is guilt-ridden and confused about many things; she sneaks out of the house and heads for Marguerite's.
Elin Hilderbrand has filled her book with memorable characters and subplots of unrequited and misplaced love, the tyranny of guilt and regret, and the long-lasting effect of the decisions we make when we are young.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 7, 2011
The Love Season