I adored the first novel of Juliet Greenwood’s which I read a few months ago, We That Were Left, and was most keen to read the rest of her oeuvre. I ordered a copy of her debut novel, Eden’s Garden, because I am so drawn to books which contain two distinct stories within them, and which overlap towards the end. The stories here are set in 2011 and 1898.
In the contemporary story, we follow a protagonist named Carys, whose ‘dreams for the future are falling apart as she returns to the Snowdonia village where she was born, to look after her mother.’ Greenwood describes the way in which ‘Carys’ past was here, amongst the mountains rising up behind the shabby little seaside town. And in the smaller – and even shabbier – time-passed-by village in the hills, where every road and path led towards the rambling grounds of Plas Eden.’
Whilst in Wales once more, Carys is drawn back to this ‘ramshackle country house’, where she bade her childhood sweetheart farewell. This episode is related in the prologue, which is set in 1996, and which marks the tone and sumptuous descriptions of the story that follows. In the prologue, Greenwood writes: ‘It was strange, seeing the house from this unfamiliar angle. Close to, Plas Eden was slightly shabby, in a homely, comforting sort of way. Between the ivy, white paint peeled away from the masonry. Moss collected where slates had slipped or broken, and the skinny beginnings of a tree sprouted from a broken edge of guttering on one side.’
The late Victorian story in Eden’s Garden intrigued me most: ‘The last time Ann was in London she was a spoilt, aristocratic bride. Now she stands destitute on London Bridge, with the Meredith Charity Hospital her only lifeline. But who can she trust, and will she ever escape her past?’ Both Ann and Carys ‘struggle with love, family duty, long-buried secrets and their own creative ambitions’, and are mysteriously connected to one another.
I was more interested in the Victorian story at first, but became far more drawn into the contemporary part of the novel once the mystery element was introduced. The female characters almost sprang to life upon the page, but I found the males more problematic; some of them felt as though they had not quite been drawn realistically enough. Regardless, the novel is still a highly atmospheric one, which takes place in both the Welsh and Cornish countryside, and is all the richer for having more than one setting. The layering effect of story upon story here works wonderfully too.
Eden’s Garden is a wholly transporting novel, which I found immediately absorbing. It is, like We That Were Left, a novel which entirely sweeps one away. For a debut, this novel is highly polished, and its mystery carefully and cleverly pieced together. I did find a couple of elements which Greenwood had dreamed up a little unbelievable, and others rather twee, but I thoroughly enjoyed the novel overall. Greenwood is an author who certainly deserves to be read more widely; I would recommend her work for fans of the likes of Kate Morton.