Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

When Eva’s filmstar sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Trelowarth, Cornwall , where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived – and died – long before she herself was born. Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards
Today, Kelly and Marg bring you a discussion of The Rose Garden by a favourite author here at Historical Tapestry - Susanna Kearsley. Kelly's thoughts are in black and Marg's in purple.

So we should probably put out a general alert before we start this discussion.

Be prepared for gushing!

I know! I have read most of Kearsley’s books at this point, but she is going to have a very hard time topping this book and The Winter Sea. They were both excellent! She has other good books, of course, but nothing even begins to compare to her later works. She is definitely at the top of her game and hopefully we have lots more wonderful books to look forward to in the not so distant future...

I have been debating with myself about which I liked more, this book or The Winter Sea, and I really cannot make up my mind. The Winter Sea was the first book I ever read by her, so I think it maintains a special place simply for that, but it was also wonderful. When I started this book I admit I was a bit skeptical that The Winter Sea could have any real competition for favourite, but then I got wrapped up in the story and discovered that a tie was possible. What do you think?

I am torn too. The Winter Sea will probably always be my favourite because it was my first Susanna Kearsley and I just loved that book, but this one and The Shadowy Horses are definitely right up there for me. I agree about Kearsley being at the top of her game. I was going to make a comment on my blog saying that this was the best book she had written since The Winter Sea, but that statement kind of loses its potency, when you realise that this is the only book she has written since The Winter Sea!

I know! It’s hard to say anything since she only has written the one book since she gained a more international audience. I wish I had been reading her all along, but I am excited that I finally discovered her when she was going through this change in circumstances. It will be interesting to see what happens now that her books are getting better known. I always have a weak spot for Canadian authors and a desire for them to do well.

What was your favourite scene in the book?

I don’t know which to choose.

I think the most obvious is a scene we can’t talk about because it would spoil the book, but it comes right near the end and it literally made me gasp out loud when I read it!

Other than that I loved that the setting was Cornwall, but that Kearsley still managed to bring us something about the Jacobite rebellion that I didn’t know before. I also really enjoyed all the characters, in both times, but I must confess to a bit of a soft spot for Fergal.

And yours?

Same as yours! When I read it, I had to put the book down and send you an email. I literally said ‘Oh, my god’ aloud when I read it. It was a perfect scene and I was excited for you to read it.

I enjoyed the setting, too. I want to go there! When I read this book, it was raining constantly here, so it sounded like paradise! Kearsley always writes such wonderful settings. Everyone of them I want to visit after reading her books. I also enjoy her main characters. I always feel like I can easily be friends with them and they are experiencing such fascinating things. It never feels like a stretch. It is very believable. I think every time I reread her books it will be like visiting with friends.

I already wanted to visit many of the places that Kearsley uses as settings - Scotland and Cornwall seem to have such resonance with these kind of stories. I am not sure why. I could totally see her writing a book with an Irish setting as well, because of that kind of mythical setting that is prevalent in her books.

What did you think of the title of the book and the cover?

I am not sure on the title or the cover. I think they are kind of generic. Not sure I could come up with better though! I am however glad that the title is remaining the same in all markets, unlike with The Winter Sea/Sophia’s Secret.

Well, the title, every time I see it, makes me start singing... Even when I opened this review to add more to it I couldn’t help thinking ‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden’. Until tonight when I looked it up, I had no idea who even sang that song... So, no idea why it is in my head, but it is since the book title was announced...

One thing I always find interesting with Kearsley’s books are the various techniques that she uses to enable to the storytelling to take place in two different places and times - whether it be through dreams, regression or whatever. How did you find the technique worked for you as a reader in this book?

I think the reason I love Kearsley’s books so much is because of this method. She makes it seem so natural. You want to call it a fantasy novel, but at the same time it is entirely believable. I really liked how the character in this book kept travelling through time. When she was in the other world, time in her own world stayed the same and she wasn’t even missed when she came back. The use of two times in her creative manners is definitely what leads me over and over again to read her books. I only have one left to read!

I have a couple left to read - particularly the hard to find ones!

We should talk a little about the actual story. The main character is Eva. Her movie star sister Katrina has recently died and Eva has been given the duty of finding a place to scatter her ashes. As Eva thinks about where that place would be, her mind turns to the place that she hasn’t lived for years but feels like home - Cornwall. She return to the village where Eva and Katrina spent their summers, and to the house where her childhood friends the Halletts still live.

The Hallett’s are battling to save their aging home, and Eva volunteers to use her publicity knowledge to help them. At first she associates the strange events with her grief and tiredness, but it quickly becomes obvious that there is something more going on.

Yes, talking about the actual story is probably a good idea. The story starts off on a very negative note when Eva loses her sister, but the book becomes about much more than that. It is obvious why Eva is so connected to Cornwall. It was just the place that she is meant to be. She goes through a lot while she is there. The Hallett son was Katrina’s first love and even though many years have gone by and she married someone else, he is still battling with the emotions that her death evokes. His father has died and he is tending the family gardens, but he hates the public side of things and is resistant to much change. His sister, though, has big ideas and Eva helps her discover them by advertising the tea house that she has built. That tea house is so much more to the story, though... The reason it came to be in the first place was a touching story.

Given that you have read other books by Kearsley what did you think when Eva started hearing voices?

I wasn’t really surprised because I knew there was something of that nature to expect, but it was just a matter of finding out what method she was going to choose. That didn’t mean there were not a lot surprises in store, though!

So, the hearing voices is the first clue that all is not as it seems, which becomes even more obvious when Eva finds herself in the same house, but that it is occupied by different people in a different time. The house is occupied by a widower, Daniel Butler and his friend Fergal. They are men with a secret of their own - secret Jacobite supporters. The local constabulary, especially Constable Creed, is deeply suspicious of the Butlers and an unexplained woman appearing could make things awkward, especially as she is sometimes there and sometimes isn’t, and she can’t really talk due to her obvious accent and different use of language. Also add into the mix a bit of smuggling and the charismatic and vivid brother Jack and life becomes very complicated all round.

First of all, I loved the characters you mentioned. I know, I am getting off track, but I can’t help pointing out how well written they all were! From the very beginning I loved Daniel. The very first scene was entertaining and I enjoyed watching him develop as a character each time she ‘magically’ appeared. I believe that he really brought the early setting to life by being so realistic. I could picture him and everything that was going on around him. I also love Fergal. Sometimes I think he was simply there to lighten the mood from time to time, but then Jack appeared and took that to a whole different level. Jack is interesting to say the least! In many ways the opposite of his brother, but he grew on me with time. Then, there was the very well-written villain, Constable Creed. I have to admit that I was not there, I was just reading about it, but every time the ‘law’ paid them a visit he creeped me out. It made the story dark just having him there and you never knew what was going to happen, but you felt like it was going to be bad. I cannot applaud Kearsley enough for writing such excellent characterizations. It is why I enjoy her books so much - coupled with the fact she writes fascinating story-lines, captures the time period very well, and has settings that I always want to visit!

Oh yes, the law man was totally, totally creepy!

One other aspect that I did find interesting was the fact that when Eva travelled through time, the treatment of the clothing aspects seemed very logical. I loved that she kept on having to hide the 18th century clothes (including Daniel’s dressing gown) in the future. It also tied in to her worries about changing things in the past.

I appreciated the fashion in general. That was another thing that was explained very well. I can just imagine how hard it is to go from the fashion of today to the fashion of the 18th-century. It was the same in Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. In this book the two men knew that she had no idea what she was doing so they aided her, but I found the description illuminating because it is not something I generally think about. The clothes themselves worked well to tie in other things, as well. One of the dresses that she brings back to the modern world belong to Daniel’s deceased wife, so using this one dress we learn more about Daniel and his past that might not have come up right away.

So wrapping up now, Kearsley has once again done a stellar job of making time slip seem like a completely probable possibility, has delivered a lushly romantic story, and this time also made us both gasp out loud with a fabulous twist in the tale!

I know! I have been writing this review and thinking ‘I want to read this again...’ I also want to reread her other books all of a sudden! It has brought the story back and reminded me just how much I loved this book, which I had not entirely forgotten, of course. I am so happy that you, and a few other people, lead me to read her because for the longest time I didn’t think she was my type of writer. I was wrong!

I could do with rereading as well, but I have lent the book to my non reader sister, who just read her first Kearsley and enjoyed it.

Ever since I first read The Winter Sea I have been encouraging everyone (not just you!) I know to read Susanna Kearsley. This book has reinforced that desire even more! So, if you haven’t read Kearsley, what are you waiting for?

This review cross posted at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and The Written World.


  1. I am dying to read this now - the only book I've read by her is The Winter Sea...but I LOVED it and have been meaning to read more. You've got me convinced that I need to make this one the next :)

  2. Oh Allison, I hope you do get to read it! As you can tell, we are big fans and would love to hear your reaction to the gasp out loud moment!

  3. It's interesting for me to see how other readers view The Rose Garden. I've read most of Kearsley's stuff-she's one of my favourite authors-but I'm going to go against the trend with The Rose Garden because I feel this book is actually her weakest. The book was one of my most anticipated releases for 2011, but when I picked it up there was no magical pull into the story like I experienced with Shadowy Horses, Mariana or Winter Sea. I still enjoyed the novel, but it was a good read for me rather than a great one.

  4. The Winter Sea was my first and only Kearsley but The Rose Garden is on my list, waiting for US release (btw, I like the cover of the US version much better. It is in a similar vein to the Winter Sea and I like my books to "match").

    Kearsley is one of those authors who can make me cry. I literally was in pain during The Winter Sea because the lump in my throat was so large and I couldn't stop crying.