Title: The Lost Garden
Author: Katharine Swartz
Publisher: 15th May 2015 by Lion Hudson
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction; romance
My Rating: 4.5 crowns
Marin Ellis is in search of a new start after her father and his second wife die in a car accident, and at thirty-seven she is made guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister Rebecca. They leave Hampshire for the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast, and settle into Bower House on the edge of the village church property. When a door to a walled garden captures Rebecca’s interest, Marin becomes determined to open it and discover what is hidden beneath the bramble inside. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together the three of them begin to uncover the garden’s secrets.
In 1919, nineteen-year-old Eleanor Sanderson, daughter of Goswell’s vicar, is grieving the loss of her beloved brother Walter, who was killed just days before the Armistice was signed. Eleanor retreats into herself and her father starts to notice how unhappy she is. As spring arrives, he decides to hire someone to make a garden for Eleanor, and draw her out of - or at least distract her from - her grief and sorrow. Jack Taylor is in his early twenties, a Yorkshire man who has been doing odd jobs in the village, and when Eleanor’s father hires him to work on the vicarage gardens, a surprising - and unsuitable - friendship unfolds.
“She wondered who would open this gate one day in the future. Another girl, another gardener? Would they fill it with flowers, even butterflies? She almost smiled to think of the garden being redeemed and loved again”.
To my mind, this is historical fiction at it’s finest. And what is even better - you get two stories for the price of one! Katharine Swartz has interwoven two fabulous stories here: one set just after the war in 1919, the other in modern day with the ‘lost garden’ being the common thread. When historical fiction writers take on a dual timeline, I always get a little nervous, as one story tends to stand stronger than the other. Not so in this case, as both stories are equally very enjoyable. So that in itself proved a great start to ‘The Lost Garden’.
This book travelled along comfortably, with me wanting to find time to read it and, therefore, was always going to be a four star read for me as I was so engaged. I felt for Eleanor and how she and so many truly struggled with a new world after the end of the First World War:
“Thoughts of …. a life and a world which she still didn’t like but which she had to find a way to inhabit”.
However, I had to bump it up to almost a five star for a couple of very important reasons. Firstly, the direct alignment of the main themes in both stories – something I believe would be a difficult undertaking – is so well done; it’s clever and enthralling. It’s as if they are parallel storylines separated by 100 years (and modern day conveniences of course!) and the concept and seamless execution of this is a definite bonus. I would often ponder how a revelation 1919 would then relate to a parallel one in the modern story. Swartz gives you just enough information before moving on. She expertly explores the complications that come after the loss of a loved one. The grief, anger and sadness are all sensitively dealt with.
Secondly, the ending is really well done with one particular twist I did not see coming. You definitely need to make a cup of tea and settle in for the last few chapters, as you wont want any disturbances. Speaking of chapters – each of which alternated between the two timelines – left you on tenterhooks so that I often felt compelled to continue, rather than be left hanging.
And of course, the strong link between both worlds is the garden. Both leads have suffered loss and seek solace in this mysterious walled garden. As the garden is cleared and restored, so too are their lives:
“She felt as if she were stirring to life, just as the garden was, the brambles inside her finally being cleared away”.
If you love this period in history, if you love stories set in the English countryside, or if you simply want to lose yourself in a really well written story, then ‘The Lost Garden’ is the book for you.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.