Kristine Brancolini's Reviews > The Orchid House

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
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's review
Mar 24, 2012

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Read from March 24 to April 04, 2012

The Orchid House has been compared to The House at Riverton and although I understand the comparison, Kate Morton is a much better writer than Lucinda Riley and this book falls short. I'm reading this book for my book club but might have picked it up anyway because of the setting and themes. Like others I was intrigued by the fact that Julia Forrester is a concert pianist and that the characters are involved with the cultivation of orchids. But these elements turn out to be less important than a reader might expect, especially given the title of the book.

So, what did I like about the book? First, the narrative structure, which alternates between modern England and France (just a little), and World War II Thailand/World War II England. The setting in England is a massive country estate, Wharton Park. This is one of my favorite devices. Second, some of the characters and the complexity of those characters. I found Harry Crawford to be flawed but believeable for the most part. His view of his marriage to Olivia as "arranged" is interesting and incorrect, but the pressures he feels to marry before going to war ring true. His sense of duty to his family and to the people who work on the estate was commendable and understandable. The most sympathetic person in the book is Lidia and I also found her portrayal to be believeable. Olivia turns out to be the saddest character in the book, embittered by circumstances and her own weakness. Third, the plot itself, for the most part. I enjoy books about family secrets and how they are both revealed and how they can exert influence for many years. Fourth, the settings, especially Bangkok. Riley conveys the seduction of the tropics and the freedom of being anonymous in a foreign country. Riley manages to create a satisfying ending and I confess, that although I had an inkling of where she was going, I was suprised.

What didn't I like about the book? Why only 3 stars? Lucinda Riley just doesn't write very well and the rest of the book is not good enough to overcome her truly wooden dialogue and often-trite descriptions. I also thought that having Elsie narrate the events in the past was strange. These flashbacks include details that Elsie just wouldn't know. This was extremely annoying. Another problem is that Riley telegraphs most of her plot twists too obviously. And, some of these plot twists just seem superfluous. I really thought that Riley tried too hard to make the plot more convoluted than it neded to be. I'm not sure that all of the complexities were necessary. For example (view spoiler) The book also contains at least one serious logical flaw. (view spoiler) These flaws really added up for me.

In the end, I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't my favorite. There are just too many authors who expertly write about two time periods and how events in the past can be misinterpreted or have an impact on the present. Kate Morton cites two of my favorites as her inspiration, Atonement by Ian McEwan and Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt. Lucinda Riley is not remotely in their league. And even Kate Morton does it much better.

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Reading Progress

04/01/2012 page 25
6.0% "I'm barely into "The Orchid House," which I'm reading for my book club this month. It includes two elements that intrigue me: classical music and horticulture. I'm recording this note now, because I'm curious to see how these play out in the novel. Given the title, I'm sure that horticulture will play a role. The main character is a world-renowned concert pianist. So far, I'm intrigued."
04/01/2012 page 98
22.0% "This book has taken an interesting turn. I'm into the flashback now, January 1939. A famous painter is back from Germany with reports of persecution of the Jews. Young "society" women are also questioning women's roles and their potential to aid the war effort, should war break out as expected."
04/03/2012 page 212
47.0% "The action has shifted back to the present and the narrative has taken on a predictable quality. Riley also needs to work on her dialog. I definitely prefer the WWII part storyline, which is often a red flag to me. Riley needs to work on believable, less trite dialog."
04/03/2012 page 228
51.0% "Looking forward to returning to WWII. It's about to happen. I'm starting to figure out the mysteries. I think."
04/04/2012 page 293
65.0% "I've just finished the Thailand sojourn with Harry and Lidia. I enjoyed it much more than the parts set in the present in England. Harry has become more and more unsympathetic and yet I can see that this is not going to have a happy ending."

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