Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen

>> Thursday, December 01, 2011

TITLE: Garden Spells
AUTHOR: Sarah Addison Allen

PAGES: 291
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Women's Fiction

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.
Sidney Waverley got out of the tiny Southern town of Bascom as soon as she possibly could. She felt suffocated, both by the town and by her family's position in it. Bascom, you see, is a town where there are rigid expectations about what the members of a particular family will do and be like. It's a bit more quirky than what you would imagine (the rules are not of the "All Waverley women marry young and produce children" type, but more along the lines of "all the X women are amazing in bed and hold their husbands in thrall"), but that doesn't mean that it's any less strict and smothering.

After a few years of insecurity and a very bad relationship, however, Sidney decides to return to the family home, her young daughter in tow. Her sister, Claire, is not particularly happy to see her. Claire is older than Sidney, and to her, the structure that Bascom provided has always been a comfort. That's because her mother, much like Sidney, had ran away really young and Claire's first few years were spent living with no security at all. Claire has stayed at home and continued the family business, becoming a caterer.

Garden Spells contains two romances, one for each sister, and very nice they are, too. However, the meat of the book is really the relationship between the two women. There's a lot of pain and resentment, there, but there's also much love still, and it was really nice to see it rekindle.

The book is also about the life of the town itself, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it as well. Bascom is a place full of magic, but one where no one even blinks at it. Claire can change people's emotions with her cooking, by using particular ingredients, while a cousin has a talent for inexplicably giving people objects which inevitably come extremely useful a while later. Everyone accepts this, it's the way things are. The tone of the whole thing reminded me of the Latin American magical realism novels I grew up reading.

It's a charming book, heart-warming in a good way, and I'll definitely be reading more from this author.



Marg,  1 December 2011 at 23:53  

Sarah Addison Allen's books are very definitely comfort reads. I often describe her books as either fantasy or magical realism lite!

You might be interested to know that Claire makes a cameo appearance in The Peach Keeper as well.

rosario001,  2 December 2011 at 07:32  

This is the only one I've read so far, which others would you recommend? I assume from what you said that you liked The Peach Keeper?

Marg,  2 December 2011 at 08:11  

Actually, The Peach Keeper is probably my least favourite of her books, but it was still a comfort read. Try them all!

Darlynne,  2 December 2011 at 17:10  

Rosario, I've read them all, Garden Spells being the first I encountered. I love the magical realism, that the author makes me feel the wind in the trees. I agree with Marg: just read them all, grab whatever is closest.

rosario001,  3 December 2011 at 08:00  

Thanks, both! My library has a good number of them, so I think I'll start there.

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