This book has suggestions of Jane Eyre, Rebecca and The Secret Garden. I liked it at first because the story had intriguing tones of the haunted house or ‘madwoman in the attic’. I also enjoyed the tropical plant theme but sadly this became a very minor presence as the story progressed. Probably the strength of this book is in the characterisation. The people seemed real and distinctive, with a special mention for the protagonist Clara Waterfield. She has a condition which makes her bones easily breakable and she is small, with a limp. With a boldly enquiring mind and a disregard for restrictive social conventions, she defies other people’s expectations.
Clara has led a sheltered life indoors because of her condition, but after the death of her mother, she ventures out. Becoming fascinated by Kew Gardens and educated in botany, she is recruited by a mysterious gentleman to fill a glass house with plants. This involves staying at a grand old house in Gloucestershire. However, there are spooky happenings at the place and Clara is determined to find a rational explanation, interviewing the servants of the house and garden. The setting is just before the start of the First World War.
There was too much repetition in the book. Clara explained the situations and asked the same questions to various characters. It was dull to read the same thing over and over. I also found the pace to be slow until two thirds of the way through. For me, the book just didn’t deliver on its promise of mystery. It turned into a different kind of story, one that I didn’t find engaging enough.
First published in 2018 by Virago.