Anna Klein's Reviews > The Lost Garden

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys
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's review
Sep 06, 07

Read in April, 2003

It's 1941 and London is burning. Gwen Davis (35 and a horticulturist formerly seeking a cure for parsnip canker) must now flee the city she loves, so she's volunteered to lead a team of girls from the Women's Land Army in growing vegetables for the war effort at an old country estate. The estate is beautiful, but it soon becomes apparent the girls have better things to do than plant potatoes -- they have a company of Canadian soldiers billeted in the old estate house right in their backyard. The soldiers are commanded by the bitter, secretly terrified Captain Raley, who immediately snares Gwen's long lost fancy. While the girls dance with the soldiers, she tracks Raley down, seeking to cement a relationship destined to haunt her. Neither can she forget the novelist Virginia Woolf, who's tragic death has left her with fantasized fan letters she can never send. But it's her discovery of a secret love garden hidden behind the orchard, long overgrown and lost to whomever planted it, that truly leads Gwen to explore her dormant longings. While her best friend, Jane, is fiercely trying to keep her missing fiance alive by remembering him and while the land army girls are depicting their former lives in chalk on blackout curtains, Gwen is tracing the meanings of the flowers in her lost garden in search of what she knows of love.

THE LOST GARDEN is truly a beautiful book -- straightforward and yet told with such sensitivity and understanding it's impossible not to get caught up in it. Gwen's idea of a drunken orgy is to get "very sincere" and start rhapsodizing on plants, and her incredibly straight view of love and life makes the poignancy all the stronger. Captain Raley's repressed fear, knowing he is just waiting to be sent out to die, had me crying by the end of the book. In fact, I cried all the way through the last chapter. Though Gwen never gets to know the land girls well (she secretly names them after potatoes), Jane and Raley and Gwen herself are excellently developed. I'm the sort of reader who thrives on constant action, yet this touching little book had me from the first word and never let go.

A brilliant portrayal of love in a time of war, THE LOST GARDEN is a literary arrangement I could not recommend more highly.

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