This was a free review copy from Netgalley.
The book loosely follows the history of the North family through several generations and from the POV of quite a lot of people. It’s a story of kindness, extreme violence, hope and grief. It’s a story of charts, numbers and indexes, of a turquoise blue Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter, handbags, health bars that look like squirrel poo, and perhaps most importantly about the extraordinary capacity of the human spirit, of overcoming physical constraints and of boundless imagination. It’s a story of getting lost and being found.
So, I absolutely adored this book. But, I only started adoring it after I was about half way through. The only problem I have with this book is the fragmentary writing style. It makes it (at least it did for me) very hard to get into and it took a while before I realised who everyone was and how they related to each other. The chapters from the different POVs are also not written in the same time. And while it’s clear that Violet’s story happens before Tilly’s, given that she’s Tilly’s grandmother, it’s not clear when everything else is going on unless it’s specifically stated.
Of course this is a conscious choice of literary style from the author, and it is consistent and does make for a different/unusual reading experience – it just didn’t work that well for this particular story IMO.
There’s all the characters and timelines to wrap your head around, and additionally there’s some pretty heavy subjects here and there that are just sort of casually dropped into the usually 1-1,5 page chapters, which doesn’t give me enough room to deal with them.
Nevertheless I loved the book, and it would have gotten 5 stars if it weren’t for the fact that I felt this fragmentary style didn’t give me the opportunity to connect with the characters and the story on a slightly deeper level. Others may have no issue with it.
And while the structure wasn’t to my liking I did enjoy the writing itself. Once in a while the repetition of certain phrases (“Matt didn’t like the tie […]” comes to mind) got a bit jarring, but generally the writing was accessible and funny and had a good flow.
I also loved the relationship Violet had with the story she was writing and with Arthur Galbraith – her protagonist. And the idea of a gardener who listens to the garden and asks and encourages, of the garden as a living whole with its own hopes and wishes. I love the idea of all the different “wonderfuls” that Tilly’s dad used, and how he had a special one for Sidney that had quite a lot of joy in it.
So, I would like to propose a toast, to the Norths (except David…), and to Arthur Galbraith – may he never hang up his walking boots. And may there always be dogs in wheelbarrows, and cake, and a sweet old man humming under the apple tree.
Thank you Jules Preston for this utterly charming experience.