(Here I am wishing that I had some kind of portal in which I could step right into this cover and walk out to that gorgeous blue sea.)
Persistence and patience is the key to reading this book.
If I were the kind of reader who gave up after fifty pages, this book might have ended up in the Did Not Finish pile. But while the first story left me a little confused, I kept on going and in the end was oddly satisfied.
With the opening pages, one can see why Lawrenson is known for her atmospheric, descriptive tales (so says the back of the book).
Ellie Brooke, British, garden designer, arrives at Porquerolles, a lush Mediterranean island, where she is to work on restoring a memorial garden. An accident on the ferry mars her arrival on the island. But the garden she is to work on excites her.
“The grounds ran down to the sea, through wind-twisted pines, crumbling rocks, and the unexpectedly lush green of the bushes and trees that held fast to every scrap of earth. On a cliff to be right was the lighthouse. Now she understood the way the house sat on its land, with the open sea to the south and the rocky bay of the Calanque de l’Indienne to the southwest.
The warmth poured over her like hot water. The wide blue sky and lustrous sea were all light and sea. For a few heady seconds she felt a sense of freedom more intense than she had ever experienced.”
But the family that commissions her is a little more than eccentric. An old woman with strange episodes who is convinced about the presence of spirits haunting the place. Her son is more down to earth but isn’t around often enough to alleviate Ellie’s worries and fears. Then there’s a mysterious man who might have had something to do with the accident on the ferry? Bizarre.
The first story dazzled with its atmosphere and descriptions, its scents and smells, its sights and sounds, but its narrative didn’t impress and instead left me a little confused as I moved to the second story.
Thankfully the second and third novellas were far better. And more importantly, did not contain this supernatural element.
In the second novella, The Lavender Field, we meet Marthe, a blind woman who works at perfume distillery in France. It is 1944 and the Germans are everywhere. The Musset family who owns the distillery are allowed to continue production, although they are secretly serving in the Resistance. Marthe, with her knowledge of Braille, is roped in, and volunteers to play a key role in one of the missions, where she meets an American soldier the Resistance is trying to fly out of France.
Iris Nightingale, a British junior intelligence officer, stars in the third novella. She falls for a French agent who later vanishes after a failed landing in Provence. When the war is over, she is determined to learn what happened to him.
In the final 30-odd pages or so, Lawrenson ties the three tales together but I fear that that might be too late for some readers of this book. It is a pity that the first novella lacks the strength of the other two, for those sections are worth reading. And Lawrenson’s writing is undeniably elegant and atmospheric.
Read this book if you, like me, are stuck at home and are looking for some armchair traveling. But be patient with it and you’ll be rewarded.
Deborah Lawrenson studied English at Cambridge University and worked as a journalist in London. She is married with a daughter and lives in Kent, England. She and her family spend as much time as possible at a crumbling hamlet in Provence, France, the setting for her novel The Lantern and inspiration for The Sea Garden. Find out more about Deborah at her website, read more at her blog, and connect with her on Facebook.
I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours
Check out the other stops on this book tour:
Thursday, June 26th: Doing Dewey
Monday, June 30th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, July 3rd: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, July 7th: Book Dilettante
Tuesday, July 8th: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Thursday, July 10th: The Written World
Friday, July 11th: Olduvai Reads
Monday, July 14th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, July 15th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, July 16th: Diary of an Eccentric
Wednesday, July 16th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, July 17th: Stitch Read Cook
Monday, July 21st: BookNAround
Tuesday, July 22nd: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, July 23rd: Kritters Ramblings
TBD: 5 Minutes For Books