The Skin of Water by Greg Johnston - Book Review
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The Skin of Water by Greg Johnston is set against the fascinating historical backdrop of War Time affected Hungary. It is a truly wonderful, absorbing, and entrancing historical romantic story that captivates readers and leaves them waiting to turn each page of this wonderfully written story. The brilliance and uniqueness of this book is not only in the breathtaking passionate journey the author takes us on, it is how he manages to so outstandingly capture, and deftly portray the significance of the war-torn period and personal anguishes many Europeans faced at the time so well throughout this story.
At the outset, we are introduced to the young ambitious and aspiring film maker - Zeno Czibula, who views life very much through a lens, this narrow lens comes to represent much throughout this engaging and exceptionally written story. Zeno comes from a poor Hungarian family and works as a porter at the Hotel Hungary waiting on some of Hungary and Germany’s wealthiest and most politically influential people. Zeno is shooting some film in the guest’s woods secretly when he spots the most intriguing and naturally beautiful woman, throw off her clothes and disappear beneath the waters of the lake. In a flash moment Zeno dives in after this beautiful mysterious woman aiming to save her, while in the water the two have an exchange of words and he catches a glimpse of her amazing svelte like body that awakens a deep passion and desire within him. The mysterious woman assures him she is fine and the two go their separate ways only for Zeno to discover a sturdy gold crucifix on his way back to the staff quarters at the hotel. Zeno decides to hide this crucifix rather than hand it into reception in the hope he can deliver it personally to the mystery lady.
The intrigue, mystery and sheer beauty of this woman Zeno came across plays on his mind in a trance like manner as he aims to discover her real identity. Zeno question’s his room mate Tibi, a more worldly wise and sly character than Zeno as to the true identity of this mysterious woman. Zeno learns she is the wealthy Catherine Steiner. Unexpectedly, Zeno is called upon at the hotel to deputise as a waiter to serve in the restaurant. The Hungarian social elite and German Military high command are dinning when he spots the dark hair, full lipped lady eating with the officers. Professional but filled with apprehension he carries on his waiting duties until the beautiful Catherine Steiner without warning gets up from the table and their eyes lock. No words are exchanged but his heart is racing.
The following day, a report of the lost crucifix comes into the staff and a fever like frenzy takes over the staff and hotel as all search in desperation for the lost article. Zeno realises that his job security and future are hugely at risk, and he slips back to collect the crucifix from his room only to be confronted by Tibi about it. The two hatch plans for the safe return of the item and agree to share any reward for its finding. It is this act of returning the crucifix that sets in motion the most unexpected and unlikeliest of romances. Zeno is summoned to the Steiner suite and when meeting the flawless and perfume scented Catherine Steiner in person again, it only serves to enhance his trance like obsession with this beautiful woman. He explains his actions and personal story and she rewards him. The course of both of their lives will now change forever.
Zeno waits with baited breathe for even the smallest glimpse of Catherine and goes to extremes to learn more about her. Zeno’s lust and desire for Catherine induce him into following her to a nearby town where he discovers her disappearing into a small cheap hotel. Does she have another lover? What about their age gap? Zeno is in his late teens and Catherine her late thirties? What about their backgrounds? So many questions yet, so many left unanswered.
Zeno learns that Catherine is in a childless, loveless marriage arranged out of convenience as opposed to one out of love. Catherine’s husband arrives one weekend with a young love interest and Catherine disappears, on leaving the hotel and asked to retrieve Mr. Steiner’s briefcase Zeno filled with thoughts of Catherine and her beauty retrieve’s it. This act of good professionalism will result in his recruitment as an assistant to Mr. Steiner and his moving into the family house in Budapest.
The story develops with excellent in-depth characterization, intrigue and passion, drawing readers straight into Zeno’s and Catherine’s unforgettable romance. Rich in texture and colour, detailed and absorbing. Their relationship blossoms in secret all the while their emotional boundaries get challenged more and more by private and war time events. As their mutual attraction grows, there is no resisting the passion that flares between them. The love affair between Catherine and Zeno is all engrossing; he awakens in her all the need she has suppressed for years. He is drawn to her in a way that she has never experienced before. This secret love affair continues as Zeno increasingly becomes ever more the confidant of Mr. Steiner and learns many dark secrets about Catherine’s husband that he couldn’t have imagined.
The story climaxes in modern day New York, in an emotional and unforgettable culmination of events. The reader will be fascinated throughout with the growth and development of Zeno and Catherine’s stolen hours. The climax to the story only serves to reinforce what an unbreakable bond and love both of them shared for each other.
The Skin of Water is a roller coaster historical romance that won’t leave anyone disappointed. The author has produced a telling, sensitive and fantastic romantic tale. An engrossing story filled with subtle moments of sensitivity, heart filling passion and developing love. The author has managed to create a wonderful classical romantic story, with excellent and very credible characters, and brilliantly written content that any reader will find themselves visualising every sentence, paragraph and page. Johnston brings the reader into the depths of the story so powerfully, you can’t help but feel you are part of the story and sharing it with Catherine and Zeno yourself throughout.
A highly recommended read and giftedly written by the author – GS Johnston