Posts Tagged ‘lucinda riley’

the lavender garden

Source: Review copy from Atria
Rating: ★★★★★

“Jean, find the Armagnac and I will try to tell Emilie more of what I know.  And, unfortunately for me” — Jacques made a sound somewhere between a groan and a chuckle — “it is everything.  I’ve been thinking since you left, Emilie, whether the rest of it should go with me to the grave.  But then” — he shrugged — “how can you make sense of the present if you do not know of the past?”

(from The Lavender Garden, page 207)

The Lavender Garden is a dual-narrative novel by Lucinda Riley set in Gassin, France, in 1998, when Emilie de la Martinières inherits the château and vineyard that has been in her father’s family for centuries.  She is torn between selling the property or undertaking a massive restoration project when she meets Sebastian Carruthers, a British art dealer whose grandmother knew Emilie’s father and stayed at the château during World War II.  Emilie’s father was 60 years old when she was born, and he died when she was 14, so she doesn’t know anything about his wartime exploits, just that he’s revered as a hero.  Emilie turns to old family friend and former vineyard manager, Jacques, who is the only one who knows the tragic events that transpired there during the war.

Riley transports readers back to Paris during the Nazi occupation.  Constance Carruthers, a British filing clerk turned SOE agent, is unable to make contact with her assigned Resistance network and finds herself at the home of Edouard de la Martinières just as he’s playing host to high-ranking Gestapo, SS, Abwehr, and Milice officers.  Unable to fulfill her SOE duties for fear of compromising Edouard’s position in the Resistance, Constance plays the role of his second cousin on an extended visit, during which she befriends his blind sister, Sophia, and catches the eye of the sinister Colonel Falk von Wehndorf.

Emilie travels between the château and the cold English estate where she lives with Sebastian to piece together her family history and forges an unlikely friendship with Sebastian’s wheelchair-bound brother, Alex, who is hidden away in a separate wing of the home.  As the secrets of the de la Martinières and the Carruthers families are revealed, Emilie must come to terms with the past, sort through the lies in the present, and forge a new future for herself.

The Lavender Garden is a complex novel that kept me guessing until the end.  Both narratives are interesting and well-developed, though I felt more invested in Constance’s story, from the action and suspense inherent in a tale of intrigue and resistance to Sophia’s tale of forbidden love and desire to be seen as a woman, not a weakling whose blindness has made her dependent on her brother and the kindness of a virtual stranger.  Emilie was a harder character to like because readers know right away that she is blind to the truth, though I couldn’t help but root for her as she gained strength from the story of her aunt and the woman who risked it all to protect the de la Martinières family.

Riley’s prose is beautiful, painting a portrait of a château that has been through as much as its inhabitants and serves as a symbol of their strength.  She enables readers to feel a part of both narratives, with her rich descriptions and well-developed characters.  The characters are fascinating on their own, but when put together in such a carefully constructed, intricate plot, they become unforgettable.  I was completely swept up in the novel from the very first page and finished it in a day.

The Lavender Garden is about love and betrayal, war and all its gray areas, and how one’s purpose in life can be found in the most unexpected places.  It’s hard to find a dual-narrative novel in which the modern-day story holds up as well as the historical story, but Riley connected both in a way I didn’t expect and made me like both of her heroines for different reasons — Constance for her sense of duty and loyalty, and Emilie for her determination to create something wonderful from the tragedy and loss of war.  I enjoyed The  Lavender Garden even more than The Orchid House and can’t wait to  read more of Riley’s work.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 34 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Lavender Garden from Atria for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Atria
Rating: ★★★★☆

Tonight, just for those few hours, he’d felt he belonged.  Never mind that he was a stray among strays, a disparate ragbag of people collected together from the four corners of the earth, through unknown tragedy.  He had not been a captain in the army or a hereditary peer of the British realm with a vast estate to inherit.  He had been nothing more than a pianist, and his talent had entertained and brought pleasure to others.

He had loved it because he had simply been himself.

(from The Orchid House, page 248)

The Orchid House is set in England and Thailand and tells two tales, one in the present and one during the years just before and just after World War II.  In the present, Julia Forrester is mourning the death of her husband and young son, withdrawing from her caring older sister and basically the entire world.  Julia is a famous concert pianist, but overwhelming sadness and guilt prevent her from playing.  She crawls out of her shell long enough to attend an estate sale at Wharton Park, where her grandfather worked in the hothouse tending and cross-breeding orchids and where Julia spent much of her time as a child and felt at home.

She meets up with Kit Crawford, the new lord of the manor, whom she hasn’t seen since she was a young girl.  Kit is in the process of selling Wharton Park and discovers a diary in the cottage that once belonged to Julia’s grandparents.  They assume the diary was written by her grandfather when he was a POW in Singapore during World War II.  Rather than read it, Julia brings it to her grandmother, Elsie, who believes it is finally time to reveal the secrets of Wharton Park.

Elsie’s revelations transport readers back in time to when Wharton Park was in its prime.  She tells the story of the estate’s former heir, Harry, and his bride, Olivia, to whom Elsie was a personal maid.  Olivia blossomed at Wharton Park, but the estate was a noose around Harry’s neck.  Harry didn’t want to go to war and didn’t want the burden of one day becoming Lord Crawford, but as with most people in his position, duty had to come before dreams.

In The Orchid House, Lucinda Riley paints a portrait of people in pain, hurt by betrayals, crippled by loss, and stifled by lives they did not choose.  Despite their flaws, I found that I could empathize with all of them, even when I hated their decisions or who they would become.  Riley made them seem so real, so utterly human, that I was drawn to them and didn’t want to let them go.  I think she did a great job merging the past and the present, even though the connections were quite predictable, and it’s one of the few books that I’ve encountered in which I was fascinated by both the historical and present-day stories.

However, toward the end, the book took a turn that I hadn’t expected and didn’t like.  I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that this event raised more questions than it answered and made me want to throw the book across the train.  I will admit that by the time I finished the book, I understood why the author felt it was necessary, but it was just too over the top for my tastes.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the book and didn’t let this event ruin it for me.

The Orchid House alternates between present-day and World War II-era England and Thailand.  Not only does Riley do a great job with her characters, but she also has a talent for setting the scene.  I could almost feel the bitterly cold English winters as well as the oppressive heat of Bangkok, and I could almost see and smell the vibrant flowers.  I especially liked how real the story felt, how some of the characters would heal and grow and how others were not destined to have a happy ending.  The writing was beautiful, the story flowed perfectly from present to past, and I never once felt that the book dragged.  I highly recommend The Orchid House for readers who love historical novels with a little bit of everything — war, romance, secrets, and redemption.

Book 22 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Orchid House from Atria for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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