The Victory Garden…
About the Book:
From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.
As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.
When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.
As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.
This novel turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, far exceeding my initial expectations. It’s a very feminist story about the contributions of women at home in England during the WWI years. I’ve heard it said before that WWI fractured the class distinctions historically prevalent throughout England, and while I’m sure it didn’t eradicate them entirely, I can see how the war enabled the breaking down of these barriers. WWI had such a devastating effect on the population of men, both during and after the war, and women were required to keep the home front ticking over. Within this novel, the role of land girls is examined, and how these women from all walks of life signed up to do their bit for the war effort, the majority of them having never farmed in any capacity at all prior to the war. The way in which this story really shines is in how it shows these women connecting over a common cause, becoming self-sufficient when they had always previously been forced into a position of reliance upon men, and discovering friendships with each other that would have normally been prevented due to class barriers.
‘For a while, they drove in silence, then he said, “You realize this is an act of pure selfishness on your part, and ingratitude after all we have done for you. We sacrificed to send you to a good school. We wanted the best for you. And now you have broken your mother’s heart.”’
Emily, our main character, is the daughter of a judge, and she’s rather stifled by the tight rein her mother – who is grieving from the loss of Emily’s brother early on in the war – is keeping on her. When she turns twenty-one, she heads to the city with the intention of volunteering to become a nurse, but an absence of skills and a greater need for land girls sees her path veering off into a new direction. Her parents are appalled, which just motivates Emily all the more. I quite liked Emily, she was made of strong stuff, despite her privileged upbringing. She works hard as a land girl and proves herself to the others as a person who won’t take advantage of her position within society. When she finds herself pregnant, with her fiancé dead, her anticipation of her parent’s disappointment leads her to take charge of her own destiny. I did find that while on the one hand the war allowed for the crossing of class barriers to certain extent, on the other, Emily very much benefited from her position within society, even in her scandalous state. Doors opened to her that would most definitely have been closed to a working girl and people forgave her situation more readily than they would if she had been a maid in her previous life as opposed to a judge’s daughter. In saying this though, Emily herself was determined to be independent as a means of readying herself for motherhood, so she refused many offers of material comfort that came her way, calling on an inner strength that she had previously not realised she possessed.
There’s this lovely symmetry between Emily’s circumstances and those of the women who have lived in the same cottage in the previous centuries. Emily finds a journal left from the previous resident who was there in the mid-1800s, and from this discovery, she finds a herbal recipe book belonging to the resident who lived there in the 1600s. It’s then that Emily realises that the overgrown garden surrounding her cottage is actually a centuries old herb garden. I really loved how Emily decided to rejuvenate what she saw as a calling for the women who resided in the cottage. She was such a resilient character, open to learning new things, despite her grief and isolation from all she had previously known.
‘She looked out of her window at the overgrown and tangled garden and wondered if somehow she was destined to come here. It was, after all, a garden that had brought Robbie and her together, and fate had trained her as a land girl. Had all the women who came to this cottage been fleeing to a place of sanctuary? Had they all taken on the role of herb wife? The wise woman? It was a little overwhelming, but a challenge, too. She felt a strong sense that this was something she was meant to do— a way to bring some kind of meaning to a life in chaos.’
This is quite a long novel and we travel a winding journey with Emily, but I have to say that I enjoyed every part of it. There is a whimsical old fashioned feel to this novel that really appealed to me. There is some romance early on, but the greater part of this story is devoted to developing other sorts of relationships, primarily female friendships. It’s a very empowering story in that context. The ending to the novel was rather abrupt, and while it was very obvious where the story was headed, I still felt a little bit cheated, mainly because I had been enjoying the novel so much and hadn’t wanted it to end yet! The Victory Garden is a quaint and absorbing read that will delight fans of historical war time fiction.
“What did you have— a boy or a girl?”
“A little girl.”
“That’s good, isn’t it? She won’t be called upon to fight.”
“Oh, Justin. This is the war to end all wars. Let’s hope nobody will be called upon to fight again.”
“I pray that you’re right.”
Thanks is extended to Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Victory Garden for review.
About the Author:
Rhys Bowen is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty mystery novels, including The Tuscan Child and her World War II novel In Farleigh Field, the winner of the Left Coast Crime Award for Best Historical Mystery Novel and the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. Bowen’s work has won sixteen honors to date, including multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Her books have been translated into many languages, and she has fans around the world, including seventeen thousand Facebook followers. A transplanted Brit, Bowen divides her time between California and Arizona.
The Victory Garden
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Released on 12th February 2019