Originally published: 4 November 2021 (Paperback 7 July 2022)
Author: Salley Vickers
Published by: Viking Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Reading dates: 3-7 November 2019
Artist, Hassie Days, and her sister, Margot, buy a run down Jacobean house in Hope Wenlock on the Welsh Marches. While Margot continues her London life in high finance, Hassie is left alone to work the large, long-neglected garden. She is befriended by eccentric, sharp-tongued, Miss Foot, who recommends, Murat, an Albanian migrant, made to feel out of place among the locals, to help Hassie in the garden.
As she works the garden in Murat’s peaceful company, Hassie ruminates on her past life: the sibling rivalry that tainted her childhood and the love affair that left her with painful, unanswered questions.
But as she begins to explore the history of the house and the mysterious nearby wood, old hurts begin to fade as she experiences the healing power of nature and discovers other worlds.
In her haunting new novel, Salley Vickers, the bestselling author of The Librarian and The Cleaner of Chartres, writes with the profound psychological insight and sense of the numinous power of place that is the hallmark of all her novels.
I’m a huge Salley Vickers fan having enjoyed two of her previous books, The Librarian and Grandmothers so was thrilled to be sent a beautiful paperback edition of her latest novel, The Gardener.
Hassie Days, an illustrator and her high flying sister Margot buy a run down Jacobean house in Hope Wenlock after the death of their father, choosing to buy the house together using their inheritance. Margot spends much of her time in London so Hassie is left much to her own devices and one of the first projects she chooses to tackle is the vast but neglected garden. Knowing she will need help with the heavy digging required, she employs Murat, an Albanian refugee to help her in the garden.
Hassie is keen to integrate herself into village life and makes friends with the elderly and opinionated Phyllis Foot and also the recently widowed vicar Peter, also getting involved in the life of a young child called Penny who often hangs around the home.
During the course of the book, there are some fabulous descriptions of nature – the very act of reading about gardening, flowers, the earth and the wildlife is calming and felt therapeutic to me. We hear a bit more about Hassie’s life – how she had her heart broken then went straight to care for her ailing father. We hear about the girl’s relationships with her mother and father and their relationship with each other. Set in the present day, there was something about The Gardener that felt old fashioned and set in another time. The ending felt a little strange – I genuinely thought I had missed something but looking at other reviews, I’m not the only one who felt this way.
I really enjoyed The Gardener. With a cast of fabulous characters, it was lovely to see Hassie’s recovery from her heartbreak and finding her place in the village. The descriptions of nature and the garden are so evocative and I felt I could clearly picture the house, the garden and the characters. A warm and cosy read, not heavily plot driven, but delightful just the same.
Thank you so much to Ella from Penguin Viking for sending me a beautiful finished copy of the book.
About the author:
Salley Vickers was born in Liverpool, the home of her mother, and grew up as the child of parents in the British Communist Party. She won a state scholarship to St Paul’s Girl’s School and went on to read English at Newnham College Cambridge.
She has worked, variously, as a cleaner, a dancer, an artist’s model, a teacher of children with special needs, a university teacher of literature, and a psychoanalyst. Her first novel, ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’, became an international word-of-mouth bestseller. She now writes full time and lectures widely on many subjects, particularly the connections between, art, literature, psychology and religion.
Her principal interests are opera, bird watching, dancing, and poetry. One of her father’s favourite poets, W.B.Yeats, was responsible for her name Salley, (the Irish for ‘willow’) which comes from Yeats’s poem set to music by Benjamin Britten ‘Down by the salley gardens’.