Reviewed by Colleen Turner
When I read Deborah Lawrenson’s debut novel The Lantern a few years ago I was swept away with her ability to transport the reader to the vibrant lavender fields of France and to spin a story that not only grabs the reader with its taut mystery and brilliant characters but with its sensory-drenched descriptions. Needless to say I have been excitedly waiting for Ms. Lawrenson to come out with her next book. I’m happy to say that The Sea Garden, a collection of three short stories that all twist around to relate to each other in a most surprising way, was just as memorable and exciting as its predecessor and just as impossible to forget once read.
“The Sea Garden” tells the story of Ellie Brooke, a British landscape designer hired to restore a memorial garden for an eccentric man and his elderly mother on the French island of Porquerolles. Desperately trying to recover from the death of her lover who died fighting in Afghanistan, Ellie is hoping this project will not only help advance her career but give her some space from her grief. But unsettled by the strange and malevolent goings on, echoed by the angry woman who owns the garden, Ellie isn’t sure she should continue with this commission. Something isn’t right on the island of Porquerolles and it might be too late by the time Ellie figures out what it is.
“The Lavender Field” goes back in time to 1944 to explore how a young, blind apprentice perfumer in Nazi-occupied Provence will put everything on the line to not only help the French Resistance but the family who gave her a home and a career she never imagined she would find. Marthe Lincel is one of the most unforgettable characters I have come across, so full of life, bravery and human decency, and it was amazing to see this woman who has lived much of her life in darkness able to navigate this terrifying terrain better than those that can see exactly what lies in front of them. And for those readers like me who loved The Lantern, you will find a nod to that story as Marthe is the sister of one of its main characters, Benedicte Lincel.
The final story, “A Shadow Life”, is set in London at the same time as “The Lavender Field” and finds a junior British intelligence officer named Iris Nightingale falling in love with a French agent working with the British SOE spy agency. When he goes missing Iris will spend much of the remainder of her life trying to not only find him but determine if their love affair was even real. This story continues back around to present day and connects back to the actions that occurred in “The Sea Garden”.
Each story was unique and entertaining in its own ways and I was truly surprised to see how they all fit together. I kept guessing how they would all connect and, much to my everlasting delight, I was completely wrong. There is a very different feel to each story – “The Sea Garden” being thrilling and somewhat supernatural in feel, “The Lavender Garden” being taut with anxiety and beauty and “A Shadow Life” being an incredible insight into how much went into the various spy rings working together and separately to bring an end to Nazi domination – but each is similar in that they all deal with some aspect of war, love and loss. While “The Lavender Field” was my favorite each had its marvelous points and would find an audience with a wide variety of readers.
Anyone knew to Deborah Lawrence might enjoy starting with The Sea Garden as each story can be consumed in a day or two and gives a wonderful insight into the author’s talent for setting and story development. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.