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Reviewed by Claudia Robinson
“One afternoon in 1772 she noticed how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium.” After making that vital imaginative connection between paper and petal, she lifted the eighteenth-century equivalent of an X-Acto blade (she’d have called it a scalpel) or a pair of filigree-handled scissors — the kind that must have had a nose so sharp and delicate that you could almost imagine it picking up a scent. With the instrument alive in her still rather smooth-skinned hand, she began to maneuver, carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper. The she snipped out another, and another, with the trancelike efficiency of repetition -commencing the most remarkable work of her life.” – Molly Peacock, writing about 72 year old Mary Delany
Using Mary Delany’s mosaic floral renditions as chapter titles, offering both a visual and written tale to her readers, Molly Peacock manages to weave together a beautiful novel that includes, in very intimate detail, the stories of Mary Delany, as well as her own. Piecing together Mary’s life, from both the hundreds of letters written between Mary and her relatives and friends and the partial memoir Mary wrote later in her life, Peacock manages to deliver a vibrant, intricate and delicious biography about life, love and pursuing one’s passions and dreams, no matter the cost, or the age.
For historians, The Paper Garden gifts luminescent glimpses in to the lives of those Mary came in contact with. Jonathan Swift, Dukes and Duchesses, and the King and Queen of England and the likes are humanized in letters to her sister Anne, as well as the life and behaviors of courtiers. For artists, the inclusion of photos of Mary’s mosaics and the process behind each one, The Paper Garden is a sensory gift. For romanticists, it simply is what it is, a story about life, a lady, and the possibilities, endless, and vast, to become, regardless of age, marital status or station, whatever and whomever they wish to be.
In an era where women were just beginning to find their voices, Mary’s resolute determination to march to the beat of her own drum, (she refused to marry until she was 43, virtually unheard of at the time) provides a stoic, charming and blossoming backdrop to a tale about the birth of an art form, and the woman behind it. Through letters, Mary’s persona is divulged, chapter by chapter, mosaic by mosaic, layers peeled back, delicately, revealing the passage of each decade and the experiences and subsequent emergence of an artist. At the time of her death, Mary had produced 985 detailed mosaics, constructed from paper and glue, a collection that is now housed in the British Museum.
The near perfect, always sublime, rendition of flowers in mixed-media collage, provide the stage for each chapter of the book, and subsequently Mary and Molly’s lives, proffering readers a luxurious view of the past, alongside the author’s intimate and candid personal struggles, interwoven in a poetic, sensual manner that makes the story every bit as much a work of art as the subject.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Bloomsbury USA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.a Rafflecopter giveaway