Reviewed by Adele Geras
It’s easy to see from the first few pages that she writes very well. She brings a place to life with great skill. You can smell the hot landscape; you are with Ellie as she walks around this tiny island just off the coast of France. My geography is so bad that I had to look up its exact location and find out a bit more about it, but it seems a fascinating and beautiful place and also the perfect location for a novel which promises to be full of romance and mystery.
However, all is not as it seems. After a very dramatic beginning (no spoilers will be found anywhere in this review) we follow Ellie as she meets the man who has commissioned her to restore the neglected garden of his family home. He has a mother who is very far from being a sweet old lady. She takes against Ellie in a big way and the first part ends with…well I will reveal nothing.
Then, in part two and for most of the rest of the book (200 pages or so) we move to 1944 and a story about a blind girl, Marthe, working for the Musset family, who produce good quality Provencal soap and perfume. The story then becomes an exciting one of Resistance to the Nazis, betrayal, suspicion, and deception. The English SOE become involved and we meet Iris and Nancy and there are airdrops and night flights and above all there is Xavier, who disappears….
At this point, while I was enjoying what I was reading, and while Lawrenson’s gift for landscape and character were still very much in evidence, I did find myself wondering what had happened to Ellie and when she would be returning. It’s a bit of a risk to involve a reader in a character’s every thought and enlist all sympathies on her behalf only to desert her and leave us wondering about her for 200 pages.
I am sure that readers will like this book. It’s very easy to read, and you are swept along by the various dramas going on. My one caveat…that Ellie’s story is too interesting to drop after such a short time….is somewhat of a nit pick. The last pages are nicely dramatic and we do learn the answers to some of the questions that Lawrenson raises. I am going to go back and read The Lantern so see if that throws any light on this book.
Above all, The Sea Garden has made me curious to see Porquerolles, a place on a island of which I had never heard.
Adèle Geras is the author of numerous successful novels for adults and children. She blogs at The History Girls, a joint blog written by authors of historical fiction and fantasy history for Junior (middle Grade), YA and adult readers.
Deborah Lawrenson, The Sea Garden (Orion, London, 2014) 978-1409146186, paperback, 320 pages.