Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Lonely and stagnating in a soulless job, thirty-seven-year-old Marin Ellis is in need of a new start but she is not prepared for the one she is given, when, after her estranged father and his second wife die in a car accident, she is made guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister Rebecca.
The half-sisters are practically strangers, and their life in Hampshire is stilted and strange. At Rebecca's pleading they move to the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast, settling into the charming Bower House on the edge of 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 brambles. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together they begin to uncover the garden's surprising secrets.
In 1919, nineteen-year-old Eleanor Sanderson, daughter of Goswell's vicar, is grieving the loss of her beloved brother Walter, killed just days before the Armistice was signed. As winter passes into spring, her mood remains bleak despite her attempts to alleviate the emptiness she feels. When her father decides to hire someone to help Eleanor restore the once beloved, but now neglected, vicarage gardens, she is enchanted by the possibility of a new garden and the gardener her father hires, Yorkshireman Jack Taylor. Jack understands the nature of Eleanor's grief more than anyone else seems to, and as they spend time together, a surprising and unsuitable friendship unfolds...
Although Katharine Swartz has written six previous novels The Lost Garden is the first I have read by this author. It is the second in the tales from Goswell series and having being compared to Kate Morton (I’m a huge fan), and it also being a time slip novel, I had to give this a go. Being honest it is not as good as a Kate Morton but provides readers new to historical fiction a gentle introduction to why I enjoy this genre so much. Not having read book one in the series The Vicar’s Wife didn’t ruin any of the story for me, it was easy to guess who the previous book had been about and what the outcome was. This book appears to have a different focus and is a story of loss and despondence and how nature in all its forms can provide a source of healing and a place to come to terms with one’s grief and upset.
Told from two very different women’s perspectives separated by over 100 years, the prologue had my interest and I was left wanting more with the cliff-hanger but after that this it really did take a while to get going. Eleanor Sanderson is a vicar’s daughter in the small village of Gosswell who gets the news that no one ever wishes to receive, her brother Walter has been killed in action unfortunately just a week before the Armistice had been declared. The family is devastated and feel the heart and soul of their family has been ripped apart. All of Eleanor’s family retreat into their own place of grief and she is left powerless and distraught. It was obvious Eleanor held Walter in such high esteem and had a deep connection with him. To have spent four long years eagerly awaiting his return only for him to die at the last hurdle must have ripped her apart. I wanted her to be strong and live the life Walter would have wanted she even begins to resent her sister Katherine having some happiness with fiancée James even though he is a changed man since returning from the war. With the arrival of mysterious Jack Taylor and a garden to be created maybe things might help change Eleanor’s outlook on life.
In present day Goswell Marin has recently bought a house near to the vicarage and moved in with her step sister Rebecca. Both are dealing with a recent heartbreaking loss and Marin feels the move will help them both come to terms with the fact that their lives are irrevocably changed. There was a distinctly chilled atmosphere between the two sisters, I know they are not blood related but after what happened to Rebecca surely you would do your best to engage with her and help her come back to her normal self. Marin discovers an old door and behind it the remains of a garden now overgrown but she can see its potential and with the help of Joss Fowler she wants to restore it to its former glory. Along the way secrets are uncovered and I could really begin to see the two stories mirror each other but it was slow and my mind did tend to wander at times.
I felt for well over 100 pages nothing much really happened, I acknowledge there was setting up to do but it went on for too long with plenty of repetition. I knew the family were devastated at the loss of Walter but to me Eleanor seemed to mope around far too long, instead she should have had her mourning time and tried to establish a future for herself which is surely what her brother would have wanted. When eventually she starts to emerge from the shell of despair she has created around herself that’s when the book picked up the pace a bit. But for quite some time Eleanor didn’t really endear herself to me. Marin was equally as frustrating for me, I couldn’t warm to her she seemed cold and as a grown woman needed to get her act together. Clearing the overgrown garden was her attempt at breaking down the barrier that had long been between herself and Rebecca. Yes this was a good idea but there were numerous times I wanted to shake her and say just go and talk to the poor girl. She wants a hug and a soothing voice with an ear to listen to everything, I really wanted her to make more of an effort to connect with Rebecca. The poor girl was clearly in pain and needed a support system which in my opinion Marin took too long in providing. OK Rebecca did shake Marin off and acted like any teenage girl does but Marin needed to be more persistent. Rebecca needed to grieve but at the same time she wanted communication with Marin which would allow the floodgates to open. To me for the majority of the book Marin viewed herself as the guardian of Rebecca where now she had to be both mother and father. I realise this is a huge undertaking for anybody but in this scenario Marin could have put her own feelings aside and dealt with them later and made more of an effort to connect and help Rebecca heal.
This book had plenty of potential, it had a good basic storyline but it just didn’t quite hit the spot for me. It was a nice read if you want something light or as I have said if you are new to the genre but I felt like I had read one or two books similar to this before and therefore I wasn’t as engrossed as I normally would be with this kind of novel. I knew far too early where this was going and I like a bit of mystery to be kept guessing until the end but that didn’t happen for me here. Admittedly the last few chapters were the best as the two stories connect and we see how the garden has come full circle in its aim of helping people overcome their grief. But sadly this book wasn’t the most memorable I have read this year but there will be plenty of other readers I’m sure who will delight in The Lost Garden.
I'd like to thank Felicity at Midas PR for sending a copy of The Lost Garden to Emma to review.