The Rose Garden

Eva Ward has lost her beloved sister. Grieving, and seeking the place they were both happiest as children, she returns to Trelowarth, her former home on the Cornish coast. There she finds and renews relationships with her old friends, but she also finds a mysterious pathway back three centuries in time. The powerful ley lines that sweep through Trelowarth take Eva unpredictably back and forth to the end of the 17th century, and into the lives of Daniel, Jack, and Fergal, three Cornish smugglers who are also in the midst of political rebellion.

Jenny: This is my first experience with Kearsley, and I see why so many people recommend her. I did go into it thinking I would enjoy the book, since so many readers I trust have pushed me this direction, but I liked it even more than I expected: there was a wonderful sense of place, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. I found myself chuckling and smiling at the developing time-travel relationships, however implausible they may have been.

Teresa: I read Kearsley’s first novel, Marianaearlier this year and had much the same experience. Both that novel and this one seem like exactly the kind of thing I wouldn’t like—too ridiculous! too sentimental!—but Kearsley sells these ridiculous, sentimental plots so well that I can’t help myself. I get swept away. Of course, I’m too rational and reasonable a person to believe in falling head over heels in love with a man centuries in the past after only a few brief encounters. Who would do that? And how could that possibly be a good thing to do? But in this case, I bought it. Sometimes in spite of myself, but I bought it.

Jenny: There was a lot to like about the book. I think, as a fan of Rebecca, I liked seeing the Cornwall coast from a new perspective. And I particularly enjoyed Fergal as a character. His way of showing Eva the 17th-century ropes, from how to cook salt beef to how to do her hair, was charming.

But I admit, I had a lot of reservations about the book, too. Some of them came after I was finished, but some of them kept rearing their heads while I was still reading. For instance, how did Eva manage to time-travel into the only masculine household in the entire 17th century that thought women should be educated, be equal to their menfolk, and do more or less as they please? How did she have such good aim as to find the only household of three men with no women (not even servants) and yet with a chest full of appropriate clothes to wear? How did she manage to find such laid-back fellows, who would so easily take time-travel in stride, and cover her disappearances on an acquaintanceship of a few days?… You get my drift. An awful lot of credibility-stretching stuff was fudged here.

Teresa: Yeah, I had to roll my eyes at some elements of the plot here, more so than with Mariana. I know that in order for the plot to work, a lot of the things you mention had to happen, but I thought it was a little too easy. Kearsley explained some of this at the end, with the idea of souls calling to each other across time, which, while perhaps a little cheesy, does work. Overall, though, I felt like Daniel and Fergal were too modern, much like characters in so much historical fiction that aren’t allowed to really be people of their time.

What did you think of the modern-day characters? One of the things I enjoyed about both this book and Mariana is that Kearsley’s characters seem like genuinely pleasant people whom I’d enjoy spending time with. I had some complaints about them, but it is refreshing to read a book about decent, ordinary people who like each other and help each other.

Jenny: I did enjoy them, particularly Claire, the older woman who seems both knowing and unknowing, and the determined Susan. I know what you mean about its being refreshing to read a book about kind people. My main difficulty with them — and with everyone, in fact, except the well-drawn Eva and perhaps Fergal — is that we didn’t get to know them well. Most of them seemed to exist in order to give Eva nuggets of wisdom when she needed them. The character I was most intrigued by was actually the nasty one — the constable. He seemed to have some interesting motivations that were insufficiently explored (i.e. “he’s a psychopath, leave him alone.”) Even Daniel, the love interest, was hard to get to know, because every time Eva had a conversation with him, she literally couldn’t see straight. (Sorry, I know it’s a trope, but… annoying!)

I think that overall, for me, it was a fun, fast read, but without a lot of substance to it. The characters were enjoyable, but a little thin, and the 17th-century ones not of their time, as you point out. The best part, for me, was the strong and beautiful sense of the Cornish coast and the house, Trelowarth.

Teresa: Good point about the characters seeming to exist mostly to share information with Eva, although I think Kearsley does a good enough job of letting us know these characters have their own lives, even if we don’t get to see those lives or to learn a lot about them. What we get are mostly sketches, but I still got the feeling that those sketches were of full-bodied people.

Overall, my feelings were similar to yours, and unlike a lot of Kearsley fans, I preferred Mariana to this book. It’s equally enjoyable, but the implausibilities weren’t so glaring. But I still enjoyed this very much and am always glad to find an author who can reliably entertain me and perhaps even make my inner romantic swoon.

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4 Responses to The Rose Garden

  1. Jenny says:

    “WIthout a lot of substance to it” sums up my reaction to the two Kearney books I’ve read so far. They’re enjoyable, but neither substantive enough nor, I suppose, soapy enough? (because I admit I am fond of soapyish books) that I would seek out more by this author.

    • Teresa says:

      I actually liked that they weren’t soapy. I like soapyness, but only in small doses. I’d read more of her books, but only when I’m in exactly the right mood for them, and that mood doesn’t happen all that often.

  2. I just finished this, and …oh, I don’t know. I hoped it would be better. If I ever have the good fortune to meet a time-traveling person, surely to goodness I would ask a FEW MORE QUESTIONS. The sublime lack of curiosity displayed by the 18th century dudes, and by Eva herself, was just so weird. I just know I would constantly be asking about their idioms, and their manners and customs and overall, about EVERYTHING, not just about matches, for heaven’s sake. I didn’t like that their language was essentially the same. Claire’s too! Also, I would totally think Eva was mentally ill if she appeared to me out of time (and said so), so why don’t they assume that it’s witchcraft, the mental illness of the time? I think my disbelief suspension system is getting weaker with age.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes to all of this! She just happened to land among the only people who are too progressive to think it’s witchcraft. But they are smugglers, for heaven’s sake, not scientists or philosophers. And of course they are also feminists, and also they speak the same English she does… I had all the same problems you did (and possibly more.) I don’t think it’s my disbelief suspension system, because I like fantasy. It’s that when I enter a world, I want it solidly built, not jerry-rigged.

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