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The Villa: Characters Guide and Analysis

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Note: the following discussion guide contains spoilers, as well as references to critical plot points and detailed character analysis for The Villa by Rachel Hawkins.

The Villa (2022) by Rachel Hawkins is a novel about close female friendships, fame, and creativity spanning different times (1816, 1974, and today). Hawkins, a popular author, mixes mystery, gothic, horror, and supernatural elements, focusing on women’s experiences.

The story explores the challenges of fame, drawing inspiration from the 1970s band Fleetwood Mac and the tensions among Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in 1816. It blends history and thriller, examining female authorship and tropes related to women’s roles.

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

With 15 chapters, the novel follows Emily and her friend Chess uncovering Mari’s mysterious tale from 1974 to 1976. The narrative alternates between Mari’s third-person perspective and Emily’s first-person account. Set in Villa Aestas in Italy, the story touches on friendship dynamics amidst Emily’s failing marriage.

The book includes made-up excerpts from songs, novels, and articles, adding depth to the story. These excerpts, presented as real, question storytelling reliability. Emily and Mari, both authors, contribute to the complexity of identity.

In this guide we will go through the complete summary and ending explanation for The Villa by Rachel Hawkins.

Have a wonderful book club discussion! ✨

About the Author | Book Club Questions | Additional Recommendations

Summary | Characters Guide | Ending Explained

The Villa Book Characters Guide

Emily McCrae (Sheridan)

Emily McCrae takes the central stage as the protagonist in the novel. Growing up in a middle-class setting, she experiences what seems like a happy marriage until her health deteriorates, revealing her husband Matt’s infidelity, leading to their separation. This life-altering event prompts Emily’s transformation, instilling newfound confidence in herself and her artistic pursuits.

A mystery writer, Emily creates the Petal Bloom series, which, alongside Dex, a character modeled after Matt, becomes a significant part of her life. As her personal life unravels, Emily’s ability to continue the series falters, and she shifts her focus to writing about Villa Aestas, a move that symbolizes her breaking away from Matt’s control. Despite taking Matt’s last name during their marriage, Emily begins to assert her independence, choosing to use her maiden name professionally.

Emily’s relationship with Chess is complex and competitive, reflecting a history that spans from childhood to their future. While Chess finds greater fame and success, Emily remains cynical of her career. The revelation of Matt’s infidelity with Chess intensifies their rivalry, yet Emily pragmatically navigates the crisis. Their evolving dynamic showcases the intricacies of female friendships, competition, and mutual support, culminating in a new, closer alliance that frees them from Matt’s influence.

Emily’s relationships with Matt and Chess mirror the struggles faced by her mirror-character, Mari. The competitive dynamics with a sister and the challenge of dealing with a seemingly kind but controlling partner resonate across both storylines. Emily’s journey in the novel encapsulates themes of self-discovery, resilience, and the complexities of female relationships, providing a rich and layered narrative arc for the main protagonist.

Mari Godwick

Mari Godwick, in her late forties with delicate features and reddish hair, embodies a fragile appearance that belies the intricacies of her life.

Born to a renowned feminist mother who tragically dies during childbirth, Mari is raised by her father, who later remarries. This introduces complex relationships into Mari’s life. Her disownment due to her relationship with Pierce adds societal conflict, and the shared loss of a child with Pierce adds emotional depth. Consciously modeled after Mary Shelley, Mari’s life closely mirrors the Romantic author’s, but transplanted to the 1970s. Similarities include familial dynamics, complex relationships, societal rejection, and the loss of a child. The deliberate mirroring of names enhances this fictional parallel.

Mari is the author of “Lilith Rising,” placing her within the social and literary context of her time. Her narrative includes escapades with a partner and a dissolute aristocrat, adding an adventurous and scandalous dimension to her character.

Drawing parallels to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” enriches the exploration of humanity, monstrosity, and the relationship between art and the artist in “The Villa.” Mari’s character reflects tensions in the novel, especially presented by multiple female narrators, such as Emily. The transplantation of Mary Shelley’s character creates a certain shadowiness around Mari, prompting questions about her existence within the novel. Mari’s third-person narrative is framed by Emily’s first-person perspective, suggesting that Mari’s story might be an invention of Emily, inspired by “Lilith Rising” and other research.

As the protagonist of the 1970s narrative, Mari serves as a lens through which the novel explores identity, relationships, and societal expectations. Her closely modeled parallels with Mary Shelley contribute depth to the novel, encouraging readers to draw connections between classic literature and contemporary storytelling. Mari’s complex relationships, societal struggles, and literary pursuits make her a multi-dimensional character with significant influence on the overarching themes of “The Villa.

Lara Larchmont

Lara is described by Mari as “pretty,” but with features that may be slightly imperfect – a narrow nose and a sharp chin. Eager and excited, she contrasts with Mari’s demeanor. She serves as a friend and sidekick to Mari, resembling a foil in both life and art. Despite being Mari’s antagonist, Lara’s enthusiasm highlights Mari’s talent and privilege, becoming a character who chases after Mari’s success and also pursues a romantic relationship with Pierce.

Lara’s close connection with Mari persists until her demise, characterized by an unfortunate incident where she dies in her jacuzzi after consuming too much alcohol and Quaaludes. Despite being dismissed by some at Villa Aestas, she produces a best-selling album titled “Aestas” while staying at the villa. The success of this album leads to the renaming of the villa in its honor. Lara’s profile in Rolling Stone depicts her as carefree and happy, though sources anonymously dispute this portrayal.

Parallel to Clair Clairmont, Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Lara’s character is primarily defined by her relationship with Mari and the historical parallels. She shares a similar fate with Chess in having an affair with Mari’s partner, Pierce. Lara loves Pierce, and her involvement in a romantic relationship with him adds complexity to the narrative. She becomes pregnant with Noel Gordon’s child, only to miscarry shortly after Pierce’s death. Lara, like Mari, owes her fame to the art produced at Villa Aestas. However, her subsequent albums do not reach the artistic or commercial success of “Aestas.” This underlines the fleeting nature of artistic success and the challenges of living up to past achievements.

Lara invites Pierce and Mari to Italy, being Noel Gordon’s mistress at the time. Her presence and relationships contribute to the intricate dynamics at Villa Aestas. Her character, shaped by historical parallels, adds depth to the narrative and highlights the interconnectedness of the characters’ lives. The miscarriage of Noel Gordon’s child days after Pierce’s death adds a tragic layer to Lara’s storyline. This event not only contributes to her personal struggles but also connects her fate with the broader tragedies that unfold at Villa Aestas.

Lara Larchmont serves as a multifaceted character, embodying contrasts to Mari while sharing parallel experiences. Her artistic pursuits, relationships, and tragic events contribute significantly to the complexities of the narrative.

Jessica “Chess” Chandler

Jessica is a pivotal character in the novel, serving as both a friend and antagonist to Emily.

Originating from a hard and less-privileged background than Emily, Chess rises to fame after overcoming struggles in a college creative writing class and working as a waitress post-graduation. Despite amassing wealth, Chess retains her low-country accent, a reminder of her origins that resonates with Emily.

Her tardiness during a lunch meeting reflects a characteristic from her childhood, contrasting with her newfound wealth. Unreliable and forgetful, Chess breezes in and out of Emily’s life, creating plans and projects that she may or may not follow through on.

Chess becomes a pivotal figure in the novel’s exploration of split identity. As Emily’s antagonist, she has an affair with Emily’s husband, Matt, and divulges details about Emily’s latest project. Simultaneously, she serves as Emily’s sidekick, helping dispatch with Matt and collaborating on a best-selling book about Mari, Lara, and Villa Aestas.

Chess’s role as both a sidekick and antagonist parallels Lara’s relationship with Mari. While Chess collaborates with Emily on projects and is complicit in Matt’s murder, her ambiguous motives reflect the intricate dynamics between companionship and rivalry. This mirrors Lara’s dual role in relation to Mari and underscores the novel’s exploration of the blurred lines in relationships.

Likewise, Chess’s affair with Emily’s husband, Matt, draws parallels with Pierce’s predatory tendencies. While Pierce represents a more direct threat, Chess adds complexity to the exploration of betrayal and loyalty within Emily’s relationships. Both characters contribute to the novel’s examination of the consequences of unchecked desires and the impact on those around them.

Matt Sheridan

Matt Sheridan plays the role of Emily’s antagonist in the novel, once her husband but now a source of conflict and tension. His betrayal manifests through an adulterous affair with Emily’s friend, Chess, and becomes the inspiration for Dex in Emily’s Petal Bloom series. Driven by a need to control, Matt unilaterally decides they will have children without consulting Emily, ultimately holding her responsible for their breakup.

Despite being a static character in the novel, Matt’s impact is substantial. He appears as a figure of scorn, and Emily recalls him differently at times, highlighting the subjectivity of memory. Matt’s attempt to force Emily to write under his name and his desire to claim credit and royalties for her work demonstrate a manipulative and possessive nature.

In many ways, Matt serves as a mirror image of Pierce Sheldon. While their professions may differ – Matt being an accountant – their shared desire for a family without assuming responsibilities parallels Pierce’s attitude. Like Pierce, Matt fails to consider the impact that children would have on his wife’s career, emphasizing the recurring theme of male characters in the novel seeking familial benefits without fully understanding or supporting their partners’ aspirations.

Lara’s carefree and artistic nature, despite her own tragic experiences, contrasts sharply with Matt’s controlling demeanor. While Matt attempts to manipulate and take credit for Emily’s work, Lara produces successful albums independently, showcasing a different approach to artistic expression. The comparison highlights the diverse ways characters navigate challenges within relationships and artistic pursuits in the novel.

Matt Sheridan’s character adds depth to the exploration of relationships, control dynamics, and the challenges faced by female characters in pursuit of their creative and professional endeavors.

Noel Gordon

Noel Gordon, as described by Mari, is a properly famous rock star and idol, leading the band The Rovers, creators of Mari’s favorite album. Son of an earl, Noel’s aristocratic heritage surpasses even Pierce’s, positioning him as a foil to Mari’s partner. Despite his flaws, Noel plays a pivotal role in the events of 1974 and leaves a lasting impact on the narrative.

A talented musician who, like Pierce, defies societal norms, Noel’s musical abilities contribute to the novel’s exploration of artistic expression and societal rebellion. As the lead of The Rovers, he embodies the rebellious spirit of the era, and his music serves as a significant backdrop to the events unfolding at Villa Aestas.

While Noel can display cruelty, particularly towards characters like Johnnie and when dismissing Lara’s pregnancy, he is drawn to Mari. His attempt to save her from the chaos caused by Pierce underscores a more compassionate side. Married to an heiress, Lady Annabelle Wentworth, Noel’s complex relationships add depth to his character, intertwining love, fame, and societal expectations.

Noel’s untimely death while flying to Nepal in 1980 marks a significant event in the novel. Despite his flaws, Mari fondly remembers him and gives him a role in her fictional ending to the events of 1974. His spectral presence is sensed by Mari in Villa Aestas in 1993, highlighting the enduring impact he had on her life.

Noel’s role in the novel, reminiscent of a Byronic hero, draws parallels with the literary inspiration, Lord Byron. While Mary Shelley’s life experiences influenced Mari’s character, Noel’s presence adds a layer of Romanticism to the narrative. The intersections between literature, fame, and personal relationships enrich the exploration of themes within the novel.

In contrast to Pierce, Noel represents a different facet of rebellion and artistic expression. While both defy societal norms, Noel’s attempt to save Mari from chaos sets him apart from Pierce’s predatory tendencies. Noel’s musical prowess and aristocratic heritage position him as a foil to Pierce, contributing to the novel’s exploration of class dynamics and the complexities of relationships.

Pierce Sheldon

Pierce Sheldon, born into a moderately affluent family with a country estate and aristocratic connections, becomes entangled in Mari’s life after visiting her father’s house.

Despite being married to Frances and having a son named Teddy, Pierce leaves his wife for Mari, revealing a more predatory aspect noted by Johnnie. Significantly older than Mari, Pierce’s controlling tendencies echo those of Matt, potentially contributing to the demise of his wife Frances. With brown curly hair and a bohemian lifestyle, Pierce is a talented musician, yet his artistic prowess falls short of Mari’s.

The only child of his parents, he rejects their dull existence in pursuit of a more vibrant, artistic life. Pierce’s relationship with Mari is marred by tragedy, including the death of their infant son, Billy. Despite expressing a desire for children, Pierce is averse to the responsibilities that come with parenthood.

As a static character, Pierce operates driven by personal desires, seemingly oblivious to the consequences of his actions on those around him. His character adds layers of complexity to the novel, exploring themes of love, loss, artistic ambition, and the far-reaching impacts of unchecked desires on relationships.


Johnnie, a complex character in “The Villa,” occupies the role of Noel Gordon’s drug supplier and an uneasy member of his entourage. Physically attractive, with a face noted for its “symmetrical perfection” marred only by a slightly crooked front tooth, Johnnie embodies a minor anti-hero.

This imperfection, a slightly crooked tooth, symbolizes a nuanced depth to his character. Despite being nice to Mari, expressing his affections by carving her initial in a villa window, Mari does not reciprocate his feelings. Johnnie becomes the recipient of Noel’s abuse and teasing, characterized by Noel as “a good lad… Sweet and loyal. Bit like a spaniel, really. Sadly, a rubbish musician.”

The complexities in Johnnie’s character deepen when he kisses Mari, driven by unrequited love. His role takes a dark turn as he murders Pierce, recognizing Pierce’s pernicious influence and cruelty, especially towards Frances, Pierce’s wife, whom he suggests dies by suicide due to Pierce’s neglect. Johnnie’s tragic journey concludes with his own suicide in an Italian prison, marking a poignant end to a character entangled in the complexities of love, abuse, and personal turmoil within the novel.

Johnnie’s role as Noel’s supplier and uneasy entourage member establishes a complex dynamic. In contrast to Noel’s rock star charisma and outward success, Johnnie embodies a darker, anti-heroic side. Noel’s abuse towards Johnnie reflects the power dynamics within the entourage, showcasing the disparities in their positions and highlighting the complexities of relationships in the novel.

Which character did you like the most in the novel? Happy reading! ❤️