11 June 2021

Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I enjoy an historical fiction novel that follows a house through time and I've reviewed quite a few of them favourably here on Carpe Librum over the years. However, The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly doesn't just follow a manor house through time, more specifically, it follows a garden.

Julia Kelly has taken the structure of the dual narrative and split it even further to create three narratives spanning five female characters.

Present day: Emma is the owner of a small business engaged to restore the overgrown and neglected gardens at Highbury House, originally designed in 1907 by Venetia Smith.

1944: The owner of Highbury House Diana is dealing with the recent transformation of her late husband's house into a convalescent hospital for soldiers injured in the war. Stella is a cook at Highbury House desperate to escape and her friend Beth is a land girl working on a nearby farm.

1907: Venetia Smith has been hired to plan and design the gardens for the family at Highbury House and her groundbreaking (sorry, couldn't help it) designs will leave an impression for generations to come.

The Last Garden in England is the story of all five women (Emma, Diana, Stella, Beth and Venetia) and even though the chapter headings clearly inform the reader about whose chapter is about to follow, I'll admit, it did get a little muddy at times trying to keep their goings on straight in my mind.

Having said that, the author does a good job of reminding the reader where they are in time with clever references. For example, after a chapter set during the food rationing of the war, the reader is shocked back into the present day when a character in the next chapter has a cube of sugar in their tea.

The writing was evocative, and the individual struggles, secrets, desires and ambitions of the women mentioned above made for an engaging read.
"It felt as though all of these years she'd been watching her memories from behind glass, and Cynthia had just swung a hammer." Page 267
Julia Kelly's passion for plants and knowledge about gardens and gardening clearly shines through, and even though I'm not a gardener myself (or even a green thumb), I didn't need any background in order to enjoy this element of the story. My favourite character in the book was Emma, probably because she takes on the job of restoring the overgrown gardens and I do love a good 'makeover'. Also, I couldn't go past the name of the company Turning Back Thyme and her best friend Charlie. They were such a great combo, I loved their chapters.

I wondered how the author was going to effectively 'wrap up' the narratives for each of the characters, and I was pleased with the ending. Ultimately, I recommend The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly to historical fiction fans familiar with a multiple narrative structure who have no problem keeping a large cast of characters clear in their minds. There will definitely be some rewards on the page for those who do so.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

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