Synopsis: An unforgettable novel about a young woman and her infant son, abandoned at a seaside motel in New England, and the secrets of the townspeople who provide them with shelter.
When June arrives on the coast of New England, baby in arms, an untrustworthy man by her side, Mabel—who rents them a cabin—senses trouble. A few days later, the girl and her child are abandoned. June is soon placed with Mabel’s friend, Iris, in town, and her life becomes entwined with a number of locals who have known one another for decades: a wealthy recluse with a tragic past; a widow in mourning; a forsaken daughter returning for the first time in years, with a stranger in tow; a lawyer, whose longings he can never reveal; and a kindly World War II veteran who serves as the town’s sage. Surrounded by the personal histories and secrets of others, June finds the way forward for herself and her son amid revelations of the others’ pasts, including loves—and crimes—from years ago.
Author: Melanie Wallace
Title: The Girl in the Garden
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Girl in the Garden left me with such mixed feelings that I can’t figure out how I felt about it.
The plot is so gentle-paced it, quite literally, went backwards. Each time we are introduced to a character, there is at least a chapter focused on their backstory. The writing meanders, rambling to a certain degree, without adding anything to the plot. I read half the book before the story moved forward.
While these backstories do help us to understand more about the characters, the only person I felt this was crucial for is Iris. Her reclusion and withdrawal from society makes far more sense when you know what drove her to those actions. But while it fleshes out the other characters (as otherwise they run the very risk of being two dimensional), it doesn’t bring them to life.
She had, Sam knew, a way of getting what she wanted not because she was argumentative or even insistent but because she was, at least from what he’d witnessed, unbelievably patient, impossibly present in an implausibly unobtrusive way.
I felt pity for June, but struggled to connect to her character on an empathetic level – she just floats along. Claire seems brash and cold – understandable until given an insight into her mother, Iris, then I wanted Claire to connect with both the other characters and readers on a more personal level.
Duncan has gone his entire life with unrequited (and unsuitable) love and his actions are controlled by those emotions. He was a nice guy – but nothing more. Oldman is the town’s sage and, again, is a decent character, only his reaction to everyone else appears to be to adopt them. I probably connected with Oldman’s character the most: he is the one you really see put himself out for June and Claire, determined to make a difference to their lives.
The plot revolves around June trying to find somewhere safe where she can build a life after being abandoned with a young baby. It’s a moving and heart-felt story, where the characters and their relationships are the moving force. But the backstories mean there is a lot of time dedicated to characters who have either changed dramatically or are dead before the story begins. It doesn’t feel there is enough time to get to know the characters who are the driving force as the attention is focused on the past.
This was a light and enjoyable read, with a few darker elements thrown in to help define the characters and give the plot a driving force. It’s a `curl up on a Sunday afternoon` type of read. It’s not gripping, it’s not a page-turner, it’s just a gentle read.
I’m struggling with this review. The book left me feeling…nothing. I, for the most part, liked it and I got through it. The second half was stronger, as the narration moved forward rather than focusing on the past. But while there were some sad scenes, the lack of connection to the characters meant they didn’t impact me on an emotional level.
I was disappointed: I never felt the book was going anywhere. That being said, I have read far worse and, technically, the writing was sound. An average read.