Published By: Harper
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Page Count: 384
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
I sat down to write this review mere moments after finishing this novel. As I try to gather my thoughts, I am overwhelmed by the awe and beauty of this one. Lawrenson has managed to not only craft a compelling historical fiction tale, but she has also added contemporary layers with a hint of mysticism. I was expecting a historical piece with some romance and intrigue that focused on WWII. I certainly got those elements, but this novel is so much more. The writing is lush and haunting; the characters are rich and dynamic.
For starters, the structure of this novel makes it stand out. Rather than using multiple narrators through rotating chapters to tell the story strands, Lawrenson has crafted three novellas. I wasn't sure how the three distinct stories would be connected, but by the end everything is made clear. I loved that Lawrenson left this until the last few chapters. It forced me to try to figure out the connection and added another layer of enjoyment as I searched for the common thread that tied the novellas together. Interestingly enough, I was nowhere near the reality of the ending.
The first novella focuses on Ellie Brooke, a young British woman, who has been lured to the island by the prospect of a lucrative job opportunity. Ellie designs gardens and often uses historical influences in her work. When the wealthy owner of a vineyard on the island of Porquerolles requests her assistance in the restoration of a memorial garden on his estate, Ellie jumps at the chance to take her company international. However, a sinister air lurks over Ellie's experiences on the island. She is convinced that someone is watching her and when odd events start to occur, Ellie is determined to head home and leave the troublesome time on the island behind her. This section felt more like a contemporary mystery; I was slightly worried about how it would connect to the historical segments, but Lawrenson ties everything together beautifully in the end.
The second novella focuses on Marthe, a young blind woman living in southern France during WWII. Marthe stands out in my mind as an amazing character because of her ability to adapt and her courage. Marthe begins to lose her eyesight at the age of eleven. I cannot imagine having to endure something so difficult at such a young age - especially during a time when medical knowledge was more limited than it is today. Marthe's parents don't seem to know how to help their daughter so they send her to a school for the blind in a town far from her home; this choice will alter the course of Marthe's life. It gives her the chance to meet a family that runs a perfume business. Marthe relies heavily on her other senses to compensate for her lack of sight and soon finds that her careful attention to smell affords her a talent at perfume creation. Her occupation will allow her to be in a prime position to assist in the resistance movement in France after the Nazis take over the country.
Lastly, the third novella focuses on Iris, a young woman in London who works for a British intelligence agency during WWII. Iris is another strong female character who will linger with me; I admired her strength and tenacity. Iris' story largely focuses on her love affair with another member of the organization, Xavier.
While I didn't understand how all the pieces would weave together to form an intricate big picture, I trusted that Lawrenson had a plan. Her vision for the connections between these women and their stories is a thing of beauty. I am still in awe of how she delivered the stories and tied everything together. Lawrenson has also given me an intense desire to travel to the French locales in the book to the see them first hand. I highly recommend this one to lovers of historical fiction and those interested in learning more about women's experiences in WWII.
One Last Gripe: I did find that there were moments in the second novella that lagged a bit.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The structure of the novel - it was unique, powerful, and compelling
First Sentence: The island lay in wait, a smudge of land across the water.
Favorite Character: Iris
Least Favorite Character: Laurent's Mother
Romance, suspense, and World War II mystery are woven together in three artfully linked novellas-rich in drama and steeped in atmosphere-from the critically acclaimed author of The Lantern
THE SEA GARDEN
On the lush Mediterranean island of Porquerolles off the French coast, Ellie Brooke, an award-winning British landscape designer, has been hired to restore a memorial garden. Unsettled by its haunted air and the bitterness of the garden's owner, an elderly woman who seems intent on undermining her, Ellie finds that her only ally on the island is an elusive war historian …
THE LAVENDER FIELD
Near the end of World War II, Marthe Lincel, a young blind woman newly apprenticed at a perfume factory in Nazi-occupied Provence, finds herself at the center of a Resistance cell. When tragedy strikes, she faces the most difficult choice of her life . . . and discovers a breathtaking courage she never expected.
A SHADOW LIFE
Iris Nightingale, a junior British intelligence officer in wartime London, falls for a French agent. But after a secret landing in Provence results in terrible Nazi reprisals, he vanishes. When France is liberated, Iris is determined to uncover the truth. Was he the man he claimed to be?
Ingeniously interconnected, this spellbinding triptych weaves three parallel narratives into one unique tale of love, mystery, and murder. The Sea Garden is a vivid and absorbing chronicle of love and loss in the fog of war-and a penetrating and perceptive examination of the impulses and circumstances that shape our lives.