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The Lost Garden (2003)

The Lost Garden (2003)

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3.76 of 5 Votes: 2
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0393324915 (ISBN13: 9780393324914)
w. w. norton & company

About book The Lost Garden (2003)

I love stories about gardens, that involve gardens, or where the setting is in a garden. So I could not resist picking up this book and having a look at it. The story sounded interesting and intriguing as well. And oh, how I wasn't dissapointed. I got so much more than what I was expecting.It's England, 1941, and London is being destroyed by the Blitz. Gwen Davis, our narrator and protagonist, is a 35 year old horticulturist. Solitary and better with plants than she is with people, Gwen nevertheless volunteers to move to an estate in the Devon countryside to lead a team of young women in growing crops for the war effort. There she finds herself overwhelmed at first by her inadequacy and lack of leadership. With time, her relationship with Jane, a young women waiting for her fiance missing in action, who loves too much and passionately and is a bit too wild, and with Raley, a Canadian soldier posted with the rest of his regiment in the house nearby, waiting to be deployed, will change her forever. She also finds a lost garden, hidden on the estate and take it upon herself to restore it and discover the love story it seems to tell, a story which, in a way, will become her own.I loved Gwen from the start. Shy, solitaty, unsure of herself except when it comes to her knowledge of plants, she writes letter to Virginia Woolf in her head, and puts the volumes of The Genus Rosa (an encyclopedia of all the roses known to man) on her body when she lies in bed to calm herself. She grows and learns about love and loss and coming to terms with ones past and fear of intimacy. This novel is mostly about loss and love which are almost the same thing when you live in times of war. It deals with the fear of the soldiers about to leave, the fear of the ones left behing, the loss of home and family, and the things we cling to in an effort to make sense of things that just don't. But mostly, though, it was so brillantly and beautifully written. I love Helen Humphreys' prose, poetic and fluid, with moments of such intense beauty and truth at times. Sure sometimes it might have been a bit cheesy, but I never minded. It swept me up from the first page, and even though it lulled a bit in the middle, I still didn't want to stop reading. It wasn't a long novel at all, not even 200 pages, but it felt utterly complete, and still open to so much more. I borrowed this book from the library, but I think I'll buy it for myself so I can reread it as much as I want.

Poetical prose, or prosey poetry. Not at all what I was expecting. I think I was expecting something more life-affirming & exciting in the discovery & renewal of a hidden, forgotten garden. This was more angst-ridden, yearning, longing for what is lost & unattainable. Very nice in its way, but a bit powerless, even disempowering, a resignation rather than an acceptance.I could appreciate the beautiful language, but it left me less interested in the people than in the gardens & animals. Natures fights & struggles to survive, whether it "loses its fragrance to the earth in one reckless gesture" or their heads fall to the ground "under the weight of themselves". Plants thrust & strive, animals mate briefly & brutally, they don't meander through life in "longing", "loss" & "faith". The garden itself sounds like a wonderful love letter from someone for someone/thing - a pouring out of love -, not the waiting, inert, hapless creature described here.I suppose I'm a little ambivalent. I did enjoy the book. I could see Gwen's journey & appreciate that Jane fought to keep death & grief at bay in the only way she felt she could. It was a time full of loss, longing, death & grief, & of love. But why so melancholy, when gardens speak of growth, birth, re-birth, as well as love & loss?As for letters to Virginia Wolff, well despair can lead humans to all sorts of depths & degradations, but can also lead upwards to understanding & achievement. I prefer to think of the life of a garden as pleasure, rather than tribulation.Maybe my understanding of the book is incomplete. Perhaps I'd have to read it several times to really understand, but it doesn't call to me. I am glad that the final words are: "And this is what I have remembered of love." An acknowledgement of love, no matter how dreary.There's a bit of blurb on the back cover thet says: "Helen Humphreys has created a novel that is both heartrending and heart-mending". I certainly wouldn't want to turn to this in the depths of despair, but it did seem that Gwen's heart had been mended by her experiences, the people she met & the gardens she restored. I'm glad this is so for Gwen, because I couldn't help liking her spiky shyness.All that said, I had trouble putting the book down once I got into it, & had to force myself to turn the lights out in the early hours of this morning.Rated 3.5 ★ - or 7/10 at

Do You like book The Lost Garden (2003)?

The setting is rural England, 1941, in the midst of the horror of World War II, Gwen leaves her London job studying parsnips in a lab for the job of leading the "Land Girls" who will plant potatoes in the country for the war effort. Gwen loves gardens, adores roses, and struggles with emotions such as love and desire. The language is beautiful (the author writes poetry as well as novels), and the heart-break of war is palpable throughout. The girls led by Gwen are young and glad to leave London for the seeming quiet of the rural area. The nearby garrison of Canadian soldiers add to the girls' excitement. Gwen falls for a Canadian soldier, while one of the girls pines for her MIA fiance, later revealed to having been killed. If you love either books (Gwen's attachment to Virginia Woolf is an important theme in the book) or gardens, this lyrical book will tug at your heart-strings and provide you with a very satisfactory, though so sad, reading.

The only reason I'm not giving this a full five stars is because I thought the underlying metaphor was a little strained and heavy-handed at times; just a few times. But the language - oh, the language. Humphreys is a poet and it shows. And the longing, and the love, and the grief.Originally, Humphreys wanted the novel to be a tribute to reading, not gardening - and it manages to be both. Set in rural England in 1941, The Lost Garden revolves around a 30-something lonely heart who loves, in no particular order: Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse; her mother, who does not love her back; a Canadian soldier stationed in a transition house up the road, who cannot love her back; a younger, very sad woman named Jane who has been assigned to work with her in the "Woman's Land Army" and who shows her what love looks like; and the definitive guide to roses, a massive tome called The Genus Rosa, which she uses as a sexual surrogate (it does not love her back). She relates better to parsnips than people, but ultimately, she learns how to love and it - as much as the gardens into which she pours all her own nurturing, regenerative love - saves her from the death that surrounds her.This book is steeped in death. The amount of death and decay is positively astonishing. And that means it's sad - yes. But also, it's not sad at all. It is full of hope and growth (personal and floral). We are left with this sort of triumphant and whole sense of love and life, which will bloom again amidst death. It's a little miracle, this book, like the flowers and gardens and books and characters within it.PS - the official description of this book does it a great injustice. I don't know that this mini-review rectifies it at all, but don't let either from discouraging you from reading this little gem.
—Jennifer (aka EM)

In the literal sense! The story takes place around the time of Woolf's death, and the protagonist is perpetually composing a letter to Woolf in her mind. Also, To the Lighthouse comes in to play at several points in the story.The book isn't about Woolf, however. And, Humphreys makes no presumptions about her. (I know how you hate that!) It's about war, and love, and loneliness, and nature, and art, and the very private, personal nature of reading, itself. It's hard to explain though.Edited to add: "In a way," it's literally a love letter. *sigh* Never mind. Apparently, my brain isn't functioning at the moment! But, there's a synopsis and many fine reviews by people who aren't me. :)

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