--from The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Stephanie Barron
Sissinghurst castle, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Landscape designer Jo Bellamy has been sent to Sissinghurst to study the famous White Garden created by Vita Sackville-West in order to duplicate it for her client back in the Hamptons. Jo has another reason for being eager to visit the area--her grandfather had lived nearby, and she hopes to discover some clue in his past to explain his recent suicide. His death had come as a complete shock to Jo and her grandmother, and the note he left behind at his death only compounded the mystery.
In searching through old record books of the garden at Sissinghurst, Jo finds a diary with a possible connection to her grandfather, but even more surprisingly, it is a diary that may have been written by Virginia Woolf, days after she was believed to have killed herself!
Jo borrows the diary in order to authenticate it and ultimately discover some information to explain her grandfather's mysterious final note. In the process the diary is stolen, and Jo finds herself on a wild journey across the English countryside searching for the missing diary and for the truth about Woolf's final days.
Not much white in my garden unless you count the white blooms of the crabapple in early spring.
While Jo eventually discovers the answers to both Woolf's death and her grandfather's suicide, the answers are not particularly satisfying to the reader. Jo must also deal with her feelings about her married employer, Gray Westlake, who follows her to England. A romance with a new acquaintance further confuses her. The romantic subplots are not very well-developed, and I thought they distracted from the main plot. But both the weak romantic scenes and the ambiguous resolution of the conflict can be forgiven, because the rest of the novel is an intriguing story that moves along at a fast pace.
My white 'Vanilla Cream' tulips
Excerpts of the supposed Woolf diary are interspersed with the narrative, which creates much of the intrigue. According to most biographies of her, Virginia Woolf, whose writing was influential in the development of the 20th century novel, suffered from depression most of her adult life and on March 28, 1941 filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the river Ouse near her home. Barron, the author of the series of Jane Austen mysteries (none of which I've read--yet), takes liberties with the historical account for a plausible and entertaining story.
My favorite of all the tulips, 'Angelique' looks almost white, but is tinged with pale pink.
When I went to amazon.com to check out some background on the author, I found mixed reviews of The White Garden. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and what's more, it prompted me to do some further research. I knew very little about Virginia Woolf, having read only a few of her short stories. Vita Sackville-West, author and creator of the "White Garden," was only a vague name encountered somewhere in my previous reading. Learning more about these two influential literary figures--and rather scandalous women for their time--proved to be very entertaining. And no doubt, long-time gardeners would be shocked to know that I had never heard of the "White Garden" or of Sissinghurst before! Reading about the story of Sissinghurst online and viewing images of the famous gardens has been another unexpected pleasant benefit of picking up Stephanie Barron's The White Garden on a whim at the library one day.
All book reviews posted here are purely at the whim of this blogger; no compensation of any kind has been received for this review.
I'm off to visit my youngest daughter for a few days, so blog posting and reading will be limited for awhile. I haven't seen her since August, so I know you'll understand how excited I am!