Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys

What can I say about love? ~ Opening of The Lost Garden



The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys
W.W. Norton & Company, 2003
Fiction (Historical); 208 pgs

The Lost Garden is a quiet novel about a woman who longs for love, who has never really experienced love, and when she does . . . Well, it is beautiful and sad all rolled into one. The novel is set during World War II and is about a group of women who volunteered for the Women's Land Army in an effort to help the war effort--and whatever other more personal reasons they have for needing a change. On a nearby estate are a group of Canadian soldiers waiting for their orders.

Gwen Davis is 35 years old and unmarried. Her mother was not the most affectionate of mothers and Gwen has never known what it is to be in love. A lover of literature and Virginia Woolf, Gwen only knows what is in her books. Wanting to get away from the city after her mother's death, Gwen decides to take charge of a project in the countryside to help the war effort--and to put her skills as a botanist to use. She longs to return to her first love of gardening, having grown tired of working in a lab setting. When she arrives at the requisitioned estate in which she is assigned in Devon, Gwen finds she's arrived a week later than anticipated. The young women she is to supervise have already taken up with their neighboring soldiers and have little interest in work.

Over the course of the novel, the reader sees Gwen come into her own with the help of Jane, one of the Land Girls, who is waiting for news about her boyfriend who is lost at war, and the Canadian Commanding Officer, Raley, whose love for music matches her love for literature. I could sense in Raley a deep sadness and suspected he had suffered a great loss in his past. He saw clearly what lay ahead with the war and proved to be a good influence on Gwen. The two work together to keep morale up and to help Gwen in gaining the women's trust and loyalty.

It bothered me a bit that Gwen does not use the women's real names, expect for Jane. I imagine it fit though given how Gwen stands separate from those around her. It takes time for her to warm up to others, and even longer to loosen up. While the Land Girls remain more in the background throughout the novel, their backstories barely told, one of them does stand out. That of Jane. She is such an interesting character, a lost soul as she waits for news about her boyfriend. She loves with all her heart. Whereas Gwen holds tightly onto hers.

As the women plow the fields and prepare for the planting of the potatoes, Gwen spends time in a hidden garden she's discovered on the estate. It is overgrown, but was once loved. The hidden garden tells its own story, one Gwen is determined to figure out as she works on making it what it once was. She sees her own life, her own experiences, in that secret garden.

Helen Humphreys has written such a beautiful novel. You can tell the author is a poet. Her prose is simple and yet descriptive, really bringing to life the English countryside and the characters within the book's pages. I found the juxtaposition between the war backdrop and the paradise of the gardens interesting. Even in such a peaceful place, the war was always there in one form or another, especially for the characters in Humphreys's novel.

Some would say this is a love story. The love between friends, romantic love, unrequited love, and the love between a mother and a daughter. Others might say it is a war story--on the impact war has even on those who remain home. It is all of those things as well as the story of one woman coming into her own, finding her heart and learning to live.

I had not expected to like The Lost Garden as much as I did. Even as I sit here writing this review, I find myself wishing there had been more to it, and yet feeling it was perfect. I wish the author had spent more time on the minor characters. I feel like I did not really get to know them. And yet, this isn't really their story.

To learn more about Helen Humphreys and her work, please visit the author's website.

Source: Many Thanks to Source: Many thanks to Catherine of Book Club Librarian for sharing this book with me through our postal bookclub! 


© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

38 comments:

  1. This sounds like a good read, Wendy. I'm intrigued with the setting and the premise as well. Plus, the characters sound interesting. Thanks for sharing your views with us, Wendy.

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    1. Melody - As much as I have read about WWII, there are so many aspects of the time period I haven't even yet read about.

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  2. It's easy to get so lost in a novel, you wished it were real. Sounds like a very good read.

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    1. Harvee Lau - It was easy to lose myself in this one.

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  3. I can tell you really enjoyed this book but I wonder if it's too quiet for me.

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    1. Kathy - I thought it might be too quiet for me too at first, but it was quite compelling.

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  4. I love this period and enjoy looking into the lives of the women who had to undergo so many changes during the war. Adding this to my list.

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    1. Jenclair - Me too. It was such an interesting time in our history, both as women and as a world. I hope you enjoy it if you do read it!

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  5. The setting of this book sounds really wonderful and somewhat unique. A secret garden? Sounds great to me. The characters sound interesting even if some of them aren't fully explored. Great review!

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    1. Carole - Thank you! It is such a sad and yet hopeful story. I wouldn't mind finding my own secret garden someday.

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  6. Sometimes character studies of women set during the world wars are too slow-moving or descriptive for me, but this one sounds so lovely. It really seemed to have an effect on you, so it must be a good read :)Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Rita - I admit I thought it might be too slow moving at first, but it really wasn't. I didn't think the writing was overdone at all. I know how sometimes descriptive writing can be like that though.

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  7. I wanted more from this book. It's not that I didn't like it...I just wanted more than I got.

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    1. Lark - I can understand that. It could have been more, although ultimately, I was satisfied in the end.

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  8. This sounds very beautiful. And the fact that the author's writing has a poetic touch is a huge bonus to me. I'm curious about Gwen's story - I will have to check it out.

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    1. Athira - The writing was lovely, and Gwen was an interesting character. I hope you like this one if you give it a try. :-)

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  9. This one has been on my radar because I loved the cover but I think I would really enjoy the book as well. It sounds fascinating and like just a lovely read.

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    1. Katherine - It's a beautiful cover. I hope you do give this a try and enjoy it!

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  10. This sounds like a book for me. I like the historical and literary references. I've added it to my TBR list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    1. Heather - There are several references to Virginia Woolf. I really do need to give her a try. I hope you like this if you read it!

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  11. Just when I thought I was going to take a hiatus from adding books to my list. This sounds lovely!

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    1. Stephanie - Hiatuses from adding new books never last long. ;-)

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  12. "You can tell the author is a poet. Her prose is simple and yet descriptive"

    Oh, nice! This sounds wonderful. I really like a WWII setting too.

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    1. Christy - I do too. There's just something about that time period that appeals to me.

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  13. Oh, this might be a must-read for me! I'm interested in Land Girls. Thanks!

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    1. Jean - I hadn't known much about them before, although I knew they excited. I hope you do give this one a try!

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  14. Wendy, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your very insightful, well-written review! You've really got me interested in reading this novel! And this is not my usual type of read, mind you! :)

    I must say that I LOVE the cover, too! It's just exquisite.

    Gwen sounds like a very compelling character, and I can relate to her personality and experiences, as I married late myself. Plus, I love books as much as she does!!

    I also love books set in England! I've heard about the Women's Land Army, too.

    It's very touching, how Gwen discovers this abandoned garden, and brings it back to life. It is indeed a fitting metaphor for her own life!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this novel! I must definitely add it to my Goodreads shelves!! <3 :)

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    1. Maria - Thank you! That's very nice of you to say. :-)

      Isn't the cover lovely? Simple and yet detailed. I could see some of myself in Gwen, even as distant as she seemed as she seemed at first. I came to really like her.

      I recommend this one if you get a chance to read it.

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  15. P.S. Forgot to mention one other thing: I LOVE poetic, very descriptive writing. So it looks like I'll really enjoy this novel!! <3 :)

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    1. Maria - I hope you do enjoy it if you read it!

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  16. What a great review! I love these thoughtful type of stories and I will be adding this one to my list. I don't recall hearing about this one before and it sounds like one not to be missed.

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    1. Iliana - Thank you! It really is a more thoughtful story, and I hope you enjoy it if you do read it. I hadn't heard of this one before either. My mail group is introducing me to some great books. :-)

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  17. This sounds wonderful. I haven't been reading much lately--my heart just isn't "into it" at the moment--but I'll add this one to my TBR list. My daughters are very interested in WWII at the moment, and hearing their talk about it has renewed my interest in the subject.

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    1. A.M.B. - It was an enjoyable read, one that made me slow down a bit to savor. I hope you enjoy this one if you do read it. And hopefully you are writing and that's why you aren't into reading right now. ;-)

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  18. High praise to say a book is perfect!

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    1. Lisa - I'm not sure about it being all around perfect, but I think the author did a perfect job of telling the story she wanted to tell. :-)

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