Title: The White Garden
Author: Stephanie Barron
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
American landscape designer Jo Bellamy travels to England to study Sissinghurst’s White Garden, which her clients want her to recreate in their Long Island garden. But she also has a personal motive for going – she thinks she may be able to study her grandfather’s past and hopes to understand why he recently committed suicide. What Jo doesn’t expect is that she finds an old journal in a tool shed she believes was written by Virginia Woolf (the White Garden’s creator was Woolf’s lover), and that discovery has surprising consequences and leads to startling revelations.
I don’t know much about Virginia Woolf, but luckily that’s not necessary in order to enjoy The White Garden. Barron fills the author in on all the little details readers need to know about her life in order to understand the novel. At the same time, I feel like a greater knowledge of Woolf’s life might have served to enhance my understanding and appreciation of the novel…or it might have meant I knew too much and wouldn’t have been able to buy the twists and turns of the book. It’s interesting to wonder either way, and I’d be curious to hear from someone who is very familiar with the details of Woolf’s life and has read the book.
The White Garden has some of the typical elements of a “lost manuscript” novel – a race to discover its provenance, working against difficult superiors, a rival that threatens everything. In fact, the book reminded me quite a bit of a more commercial version of Possession by A.S. Byatt. I wouldn’t be surprised if Barron had read Possession and if some of the scenes were inspired by that novel, as there were some striking similarities. That being said, The White Garden doesn’t have the heft or gravitas of Possession and is a thriller/contemporary fiction novel, rather than a work of literary fiction.
I enjoyed The White Garden; it was a fun, easy read and it kept my interest from beginning to end. Fans of literary mysteries should definitely consider picking this book up; it’s got some fun action and quick thinking without being Da Vinci Code-esque. I also enjoyed learning a little about an author I know of, but have never read, and am inspired to pick up one of Woolf’s work soon.