The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 182 pages, 2002

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: A group read for one of my Yahoo groups.

Synopsis: A lonely horticulturist volunteers to aid England’s war efforts of 1941 by moving to the country and leading a small group of girls in a potato-growing venture. While there, Gwen explores the possibilities of love with a poetry-reciting soldier, the lives of the young girls she is put in charge of, and a lost garden. Clearing away the tangle of weeds, Gwen is driven to interpret the story the garden and its creator have left behind.

Why you should read this book: The subjects Humphreys writes about (poetry, Virginia Woolf, horticulture, war) could be perceived as dry, but the eloquence with which she writes makes this story immensely readable. The Lost Garden reads fairly quickly, but you’ll find yourself reflecting on the book and beautiful language for weeks to come.

Why you should avoid this book: This is a character-driven book, not plot-driven, so you’ll have to get your action fix elsewhere.

Opening paragraph:

What can I say about love? You might see me sitting in this taxi, bound for Paddington Station – a thirty-five-year-old woman with plain features – and you would think that I could not know anything of love. But I am leaving London because of love.

Fabulous quotes:

‘The point, dear Davis, is that sometimes what you want is nothing more than to put your name beside someone else’s, someone whom you love. Stretch your name out alongside theirs as though it was you, lying next to them.’

Jane lights her cigarette. ‘My nerves were under great strain. That’s how it was phrased at the time.’ She looks at me, expelling a stream of smoke. ‘Breakdown, Gwen,’ she says. ‘I had a breakdown.’ The angel regards us sternly from the top of the hedge.
‘Why?’ I ask. ‘What happened?’ ‘I realized I wasn’t the brightest person there, and I just couldn’t go on, knowing that. Somehow it made everything seem so futile.’ Jane looks at me. ‘Sounds rather pathetic, doesn’t it? But I need to be right next to something, right up against it. No gaps. And if I couldn’t be the one right next to knowledge, then I didn’t exist at all. That’s how it is with me.’

When a writer writes, it’s as if she holds the sides of her chest apart, exposes her beating heart. And even though everything wants to heal, to close over and protect the heart, the writer must keep it bare, exposed. And in doing this, all of life is kept back, all the petty demands of the day-to-day. The heart is a river. The act of writing is the moving water that holds the banks apart, keeps the muscles of words flexing so that the reader can be carried along by this movement. To be given space and the chance to leave one’s earthly world. Is there any greater freedom than this?

Also Recommended: The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

Also by this author: Wild Dogs; Afterimage; Leaving Earth.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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