Review by Jan:
First I will begin by saying I fell in love with the environment of this story. It's set on an English country estate, with neglected gardens, stone bridge covered streams, and an abandoned cottage complete with a scrapbook filled with secrets. It reads more like contemporary fiction, or women's fiction, rather than a typical romance. Also, this book was voted in for our next read. Copies will be available at our next meeting on April 26th. The discussion should be interesting.
It begins with Miranda Lambert, an ex-Londoner and writer who we soon learn is not entirely happy living in the country as she secretly sobs in her closet over her unused Jimmy Choos. Her husband, a banker, travels from London to spend the weekends with her and their two children. She is a posh socialite more comfortable in the city than the country that she now inhabits. Her children are lonely and unhappy, starving for attention; her son acts out in aggressive ways, torturing the neighbor's poor donkey and biting classmates.
I was drawn to champion this woman as soon as her husband hit the pages. David is arrogant, belittles his wife, and having an affair with her best friend! On his weekends home, he watches golf and ignores his family. Miranda, after a scolding from her husband to "get it together", hires a cook, housekeeper, and a mysterious French gardener. While cleaning out an abandoned cottage on the estate, she discovers a journal written by the previous owner who was lovingly called Shrub by her husband. The journal chronicles Shrub's love affair with her own French gardener that happened thirty years prior.
We soon learn that Shrub's French gardener in the past is also Miranda's French gardener in the present; Jean-Paul is older but still handsome. The gardener returned for Shrub but found a troubled family in her place. In honor of his lost love, Jean-Paul agrees to stay and rebuild the overgrown garden. As the garden comes back to life so does the family who lives amongst its magical surroundings, and as Miranda reads the secret journal readers also journey through a forbidden love story.
This book intertwines two story lines quite nicely. I will say I enjoyed this book despite the heavy influence of infidelity throughout, both in the past and present. Shrub's affair in the past helps Miranda forgive her own husband's infidelity in the present, so while the affairs are distasteful, there are lessons learned. It is a story filled with secret discoveries, forbidden love, and human weakness. The setting is exquisite, a gardener's ultimate dream, and the cast is fun and quirky. The only other spoiler I will give is that I think it wrapped up the French gardener's storyline in a satisfactory way. I enjoyed the journey of Miranda and her family toward happiness and forgiveness, although I wouldn't have minded if she had punished her husband just a tad longer before allowing him back home.
Hope to see you in our library someday soon,