Since her parent’s deaths, Lavender has made money selling flowers grown in the garden that supplied their apothecary shop, along with the orphan boy they took in. It’s hard work with little chance of reward, and it looks like she may lose the house and garden, when a chance encounter with a famous medium who has come to town, and her handsome but scarred assistant, changes everything.
The author, Jeanette Lynes, has written several books of poetry and her first novel The Factory Voice was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The book is set in Belleville, Ontario, in the 1860’s, and is full of the bustle and atmosphere of small town life of that era, which the author captures very well. The books plot has some soft nods to Victorian novels of that era, with inheritances lost, treasures needing to be found, orphans of mysterious parentage, spiritualism and a romance with a romantic, scarred hero. And of course, the era’s fascination with death. I think this was really nicely done, it’s not heavy handed, and the book is otherwise quite modern.
The overall tone and style is rich and lyrical, peppered with verdant analogy and simile. The book itself feels lush, like a garden of flowers. It hints around magic realism, in certain places, but it doesn’t go too far with it, leaving you to make up your own mind, to some extent. There are also references to the Victorian language of flowers and the uses of plants as medicine, which was slightly witchy, which obviously I really liked.
I had two slight criticisms, which are minor. Firstly, since Lavender needs to make money, and I kept seeing obvious ways she could make it. Like, why does she not sell remedies, since she knows quite a few and her mother was able to do so. Or, since she has a house and a lot of tea, why not open a room as a tea shop, like some women of the era did? It was a little odd that she wasn’t more motivated and creative in her approach sometimes. The other little thing was that her relationship with Arlo, the orphan, always rang a little hollow to me. We don’t get a sense of shared memories or experiences, things they like to share. Lavender talks about wanting to watch over him, but there’s no action in the plot where she does. She has the thought, but there’s no action. We are told they are close, but not made to feel it. I liked Arlo as a character, but he felt like he was part of his own plotline, not part of her life.
On the whole, this book was a breath of fresh air to me. I really liked the Canadian historical setting and the author writes beautifully. I loved the garden and small town life, the crumbling house and the little romance and mystery at the heart of the book. It was a really enjoyable world to spend time in.
Read It If: this one is a nice change of pace from some of the more mordant books on your TBR, with it’s lyrical style and beautiful garden at it’s centre. I really liked it.
Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for the ARC of this book for review.