>> Tuesday, September 13, 2011
TITLE: The Rose Garden
AUTHOR: Susanna Kearsley
COPYRIGHT: 2011 (already out in the UK, out in October in the US)
PUBLISHER: Allison & Busby
SETTING: Contemporary and 18th century Cornwall
When Eva’s film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs.I can't believe I haven't posted this review yet! I read The Rose Garden when it first came out months ago, and by the way, I loved the fact that for once, the geo restrictions worked in my favour and I was able to purchase it even earlier in e-format here in England. So anyway, I wrote up some notes about it as soon as I finished, and then never got round to actually tidying up and fleshing them up into a proper review. So here goes!
But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived – and died – long before she herself was born.
Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards.
The Rose Garden was a bit of a surprise, and I must confess, at first I thought it wasn't a good surprise. You see, this is a time travel romance, and I hate time travel romance. This was definitely not what I was expecting. I knew there was going to be some sort of wrinkle in the time-space continuum, but I thought it was going to be more like Mariana, where the heroine has dreams of a previous life and follows the action that way, or The Winter Sea, where the heroine experiences a strange kind of ancestral memory and somehow starts including the life of an ancestor in the novel she's writing. But nope, this is proper time travel, with the heroine jumping back and forth from her life in present-day England to 300 years earlier. And you know what? I loved it!
Starting from the beginning, then: Eva has just lost her beloved sister, Katrina. When she goes to Cornwall to scatter her ashes in the place where they spent so many happy days in their youth, she makes contact again with the Halletts, good friends from back in the day. Feeling a bit at a loss after Katrina's death, Eva accepts their invitation to stay at their home, Trelowarth, for a few weeks.
For the first time in a while, Eva feels more at peace. She makes friends, rekindles old acquaintances and gets involved in the rose garden of the title, the business ran by the Halletts. But then things start going a bit weird, culminating with the realisation that she's jumped back in time. She's still in Trelowarth, but almost 300 years earlier.
And she's not alone there, the house is occupied by the handsome sea captain Daniel Butler and his Irish friend, Fergal, both of whom, Eva soon realises, are Jacobite supporters and up to their necks in plotting and planning and (this being Cornwall) smuggling. The authorities are quite suspicious of their activities and keep a close eye on them, so Eva has quite a few difficulties with the fact that she keeps popping back and forth in between the 21st and 18th centuries, period-appropriate clothing included! And as the relationship between her and Daniel deepens, she needs to decide where her home is.
As always with Kearsley, the book is rich in atmosphere and location. I wanted to go to Cornwall really badly as I was reading. It was also peopled with wonderful, memorable characters. Eva and Daniel are lovely, and so is their romance, and I especially enjoyed Fergal's charm and the true friendship that develops between him and Eva. Her relationships with the Halletts and the people in town are warm and well-developed as well.
I also really loved the sense of history. I have a limited knowledge of the Jacobites and the plots they were involved in, so it was all new to me. I do know how things ended, though, and so does Eva, which added an extra element here. Because if someone from the future suddenly showed up in my life, I would want nothing better than to know what happens in the future, what changes and how. And Daniel is quite interested in Eva's life, but he seems to be more into the fascinating objects she accidentally brings with her than in future events. Not that Eva is anxious to tell him. She's probably seen Back to the Future as well, and knows you need to be very careful not to alter events, so she's intentially vague, all the while angsting about the fact that she knows things don't end well for Daniel's cause. The way Kearsley deals with this is brilliant, though.
What's also brilliant is the resolution. I don't want to give anything away, but there's a wonderful surprise which ties several ends together, and which made me go "of course!" and wonder how I hadn't seen this coming. I also loved the answer to the eternal question in time travel of which of the two lovebirds is going to have to abandon their own time. Very well done.
The only bit that didn't completely satisfy was the ease with which Daniel accepted the idea that Eva had come from the future. I mean, if I suddenly came face to face with a time traveller from the future, it would take a lot more to convince me, even if they have all sorts of futuristic objects and even though the concept of time-travel is a familiar one to us these days. Back then they wouldn't have even considered the idea, and all sorts of supernatural and quite worrying explanations would have come to mind much more easily. Yes, there's the hint that Daniel isn't exactly new to strange occurrences, but still, it was much too easy.
Oh, well, that's a pretty minor issue, all in all, it's a fantastic read.
MY GRADE: A B+.