Monday, June 19, 2006
Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan
Consider the Lily took me weeks to read - very unusual for me, especially if we're talking fiction; with non-fiction I often have to pinch myself and say, "Stay awake, dummy." In this case, I think the story really just moved very, very slowly because the author paid great attention to historical accuracy and detail. The heroine was also quite hard to warm up to, but eventually Matty Verral Dysart seemed to grow and thrive as a character.
Backing up a bit, Consider the Lily is a story set between the two world wars. Kit Dysart and his family live in a decaying mansion on a crumbling estate, Hinton Dysart, the family money having dwindled. After a suitable introduction involving a wedding, Kit, Matty Verral, her cousin Daisy, and other relatives and friends of both families go on holiday in France. Kit and Daisy fall madly in love and are, it seems, a perfect match. But, when the American stock crash causes a huge loss of assets, Kit is called home to deal with business without managing to propose.
Matty is independently wealthy and asks Kit to marry her as they cross the channel toward England, knowing she can solve his financial troubles. He agrees. But, Kit doesn't love Matty. Haunted by Daisy, he treats Matty gently and tries to be a good husband but with a distance that is cruel; sometimes she can even see him flinch when she touches him. When Matty discovers a grown-over walled garden, she finds hope and solace, as well as some startling family secrets. There, with her hands in the soil, she is transformed along with the beautiful flowers growing around her.
For the novice, the first steps in gardening are the most difficult. There is much to learn, wrote a great gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. But, unlike the lessons in love or hate, even the lessons in money, they are pleasant, oh, so pleasant, and the fallings by the wayside do not wound, only teach. The beginner, said Miss Jekyll, should be both bewildered and puzzled, for that is part of the pre-ordained way; the road to perfection. Each step becomes lighter, less mud-clogged, until, little by little, the postulant becomes the novice, the novice the fully professed. Oh, yes, Miss Jekyll, you were so right. A garden is a grand primer. 'It teaches patience and careful watchfulness: it teaches industry and thrift: above all, it teaches entire trust.'
Another 3.5/5. I believe this book is particularly worth a read for those who love gardening and historical fiction; one who gardens can't help but nod at the therapeutic value of sticking hands in dirt and watching beautiful creations grow. I also enjoyed the fact that Hinton Dysart (a fictional estate) was near Farnham, a small town that I've visited in England (and where I met a ghost, but that's another story), so I knew a little of its Roman history. An enjoyable story, if somewhat slow to develop.