The Rose Garden is one of the best books I have read this year. Everything about it is beautiful: the setting, the characters, the romance, and most of all, the writing style. There’s something about Ms. Kearsley’s voice that feels almost magical, I was transported to the places she describes and I felt like I was part of the book.
When Eva’s sister, Katrina, dies, she has the painful task of having to take care of her ashes. After much consideration she decides to bring them to the small town in Cornwall where they used to spend their summers when they were kids.
Once she gets there, Eva reunites with a full cast of characters from her past that grieve the loss, but welcome her with open arms. While she settles and decides what to do with the ashes, strange things start to happen: she hears voices that come from rooms she knows are empty; new paths appear in the woods just to disappear in the blink of an eye; and then she has vivid dreams about being in a different time. It doesn’t take long before she realizes that she is, in fact, time traveling, and that what she’s seeing is the 18th century version of the town. There she meets Daniel and Fergal, the original inhabitants of the house, and she quickly becomes involved in their lives and machinations; Daniel’s in particular.
Eva’s hands are full. First, she has to deal with her present problems, her grief and her sense of lost; then she has to accept the unbelievable, and finally she has to come to terms with the fact that she’s falling in love with a man who lived almost three-hundred years ago, and whose life may be in danger.
My description of the story falls short because there are lots of things going on in it including several romantic sub-plots. The book is narrated by Eva and she is definitely the heart and soul of the novel. She was an engaging woman that was a bit lost and in a lot of emotional pain, but never gave up or succumbed to self-pity. She was the perfect combination of vulnerability and strenght. I think Ms. Kearsley’s portrayal of the sense of loss and void that comes after losing someone dear to you was spot on.
Daniel was a great hero, so sensitive and honorable. I did feel like he didn’t have much trouble getting used to Eva and her story of time-travel, though. That part was the hardest for me to swallow and accept, even harder than the actual time-travel and is my main and only complaint with the book. However, I think that there were so many things going on and that having a skeptic hero would have been, perhaps, too much.
The secondary characters were just as likeable and necessary for the story as the main ones. Fergal, Daniel’s Irish friend, was loyal and funny; Mark, the steady and reliable friend who’s in charge of the house and in love with gardening; Mark’s sister, Susan, who’s at a turning point in her life and trying to come to terms with sacrifice and love; and Grace, the mother figure that in a way binds them all together. I cared deeply for each and every one of them and I was happy to see the resolution to each of their individual stories and journeys.
The time-travel aspect of the story was very well done. This isn’t a sci-fi book where every single facet is explained, so you will have to take the fantastic elements at face value. This isn’t meant to be a story with a believable explanation for time-travel, but even though it’s a bit unbelievable, the story works because Ms. Kearsley keeps her explanations simple and to the point. Eva, Daniel and Fergal, the characters that are aware of the time-travel, understand the danger that comes with it, they go to a lot of trouble to hide Eva, to have appropriate clothes available to her, she can’t speak because her accent would betray her, and she’s aware of the fact that she’s in a particular difficult time period, and is afraid of changing history with here mere presence.
The ending was rushed but gripping, and I was unsure whether it would be happy or sad. In a way it was bittersweet, but not bad at all, I assure you that it was satisfying and everyone gets their much deserved happily ever after.
Finally, I have to mention the descriptions and the setting. Ms. Kearsley describes the places in a way that make you feel like you are there. It was so vivid that I could almost smell the sea and had no trouble picturing the town and the house.
You have to read this book, it starts a bit slow and the romance is sweet and understated, but I couldn’t put it down. Just like that, I have a new favorite author.
Review by Brie
When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived - and died - long before she herself was born. Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards.
Sourcebook Landmark. October 4, 2011.