Book review: The Heart of the Garden by Victoria Connelly

Novel cover for Heart of the Garden by Victoria Connelly

There are people who don’t enjoy reading ebooks. One of my sisters loves the physicality of a “real” book. She loves the smell of a book and the feel of the pages beneath her fingers. An ebook just doesn’t cut it with her. Add the fact that she prefers nineteenth century literature and the ebook format doesn’t feel appropriate to her, somehow.

For me, though, the story is king. The format is secondary to the writing, to the world that I am drawn into by the author. I have enjoyed talking books (handy when I am working as I can focus my eyes on sewing and who doesn’t enjoy being read to?), hardbacks, paperbacks and, yes, ebooks too. I forget how I am reading; the important thing is that I am reading. I have been known to try to turn the page of an ebook or fruitlessly press the paper page, wondering why nothing happens until I return from the fictional universe and become aware of the object in my hand.

The beauty of ebooks for me is their portability. I read on my tablet, I read on my phone. If I run out of something to read, I can download something new at any time of day or night. Sometimes I download library books, sometime I splash out and buy them. Strangely, it feels less of a risk to try something new in ebook too. If I buy a hard copy, it needs to earn its place on our overstuffed bookshelves. (Early readers of the blog may remember the size of our bookcases but I am afraid they were filled long ago). If I buy or borrow something virtually, it doesn’t matter as much if I don’t enjoy it – it is psychologically easier to delete than it is to get rid of an actual book and, if I don’t bother, it isn’t taking up anything apart from memory space.

It was with this in mind that I downloaded The Heart of the Garden by Victoria Connelly. I hadn’t read anything by her before and I was tempted by the blurb, which talked of a ruined garden and family secrets. Emilia leaves her home, Morton Hall, to a carefully selected, if disparate group of people from the village and asks them to restore the garden for the benefit of the community. As they garden, they (and we) learn about Emilia, each other and themselves.

I love a story which brings out the healing nature of a garden. Leaving aside the physical benefits, the positive effect of gardening on mental health and wellbeing are well documented. All the characters in this book have different issues, although loneliness is a definite theme running through the novel, and the garden is the catalyst which brings them together and helps them to heal. I particularly enjoyed Emilia’s story and, if I have any criticism of the novel, it is that I would have liked to know more about her past.

Slowly, the garden comes back to life and so do the characters working in it. As well as the inevitable romance, touching friendships are formed, such as that between widow Dorothy and the younger Erin. And one of the characters discovers more about herself than she ever dreamed of …

I read this book some time ago and I was left with a very strong image of the house, the gardens and Emilia Morton, which has stayed with me when the detail of the individual stories has faded. The author has a strong sense of place and Emilia’s story has a timelessness about it which transports you back into the past. The book is worth reading for those aspects alone, although I also enjoyed the changing dynamics of the group.

I may well be looking out for another Victoria Connelly novel for my holiday next month – if this is anything to go by, it will be a great holiday read.

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