Although I have hundreds of books waiting for me on my tbr shelf, I can’t seem to stop buying new books whenever I am at the bookstore, which is – let’s face it – often. There’s been all these suspense thrillers out there like I’m Thinking of Ending Things and The Widow and Twisted River and The Crooked House which I seem to be drawn to like the proverbial moth to the flame. Maybe it’s because it’s summer and I just like to read something that’s fun, I dunno. But I have no trouble ignoring the huge catalogue of back-listed books I have waiting to be read and, instead, buy the shiny new books.
The Girls in the Garden is one of those books. Although it turned out to be not the book I thought it would be, it was a great read nonetheless.
Clare has moved to a small enclave somewhere in urban London. Virginia Park is “formed in the space between a long row of small, flat-fronted Georgian cottages on Virginia Terrace and a majestic half-moon of stucco-fronted mansions on Virginia Crescent, with a large Victorian apartment block at either end.” She and her children, eleven-year-old Pip and twelve-year-old Grace are recovering from a horrible incident involving Clare’s husband, Chris. (And again, what is it with book blurbs getting it wrong? The back cover says Pip is older, but she’s not.)
From the outside, Virginia Park seems like a miracle of a place. In the boundary formed by the buildings is a beautiful park which Pip describes in a letter to her father as being “like Narnia.”
…there are all these pathways and little tucked-away places. A secret garden which is hidden inside an old wall covered with ivy, like the one in the book. A rose garden which has bowers all the way around and benches in the middle. And then there’s a playground, too.
It’s a place of magic for the girls and a place for Clare to catch her breath. Except, of course, the magic is short-lived.
Adele also lives in Virginia Park with her husband, the handsome and slightly oily Leo, and their daughters Catkin, Fern and Willow. The girls are home-schooled and the family leads a slightly bohemian life. Soon, Clare and her girls are brought into the welcoming embrace of Adele’s family. (Okay, maybe the girls aren’t 100% welcoming; you know how kids are.)
Tyler, another pre-teen who lives in one of the flats and her best friend, Dylan, the beautiful thirteen-year-old boy who also lives at the park, round out the gang that Grace and Pip find themselves hanging around with.
The Girls in the Garden reads like a thriller. The novel begins with the discovery of Grace’s unconscious and bloody body being discovered by her sister in the rose garden and then backtracks to unspool the story, mainly from the point of view of Clare, Adele and Pip.
Jewell cleverly manipulates the reader into imagining a variety of very plausible scenarios before the story takes an unexpected (but not unbelievable) turn, ultimately making The Girls in the Garden less of a thriller and more of a domestic drama. But really, is there anything more thrilling than that? Isn’t it absolutely true that we never really know people, even those closest to us?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.