I’ve just finished reading a delicious book, with a story so good that it lingers in my thoughts and I don’t want to let it go. I picked up The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore on a whim in the Omaha airport last March, when my carry on was already loaded down with too many books. I had heard rave reviews of her writing style from my mother, and I reasoned there was always room to squeeze just one more book into my bag.
On another whim last weekend, I tossed the book into my beach bag before heading out to Positano. I’m so glad I did! Using the book to shield out the too hot sun, I was easily lost in the story from the captivating prologue that sets the scene for this romantic tale in the English countryside.
The story takes place in one very special garden, and moves back in forth in time to reveal how it changes the lives of two families, at first so strikingly different, but moved in many ways by the same need for love and family. Miranda and David Claybourne are the stereotypical city couple moving to the country for all the stereotypical reasons. As Miranda’s husband drifts apart with his busy work schedule in the city during the week, she finds herself discovering the beauty of her children and family life in the country. Intent and bringing the estate’s gardens back to their former glory, she is helped by one very charming French gardener who shows up mysteriously one day. As her own marriage falls apart, she is lost in the romantic story of Ava Lightly, the former owner of the house who had created the beautiful gardens … and left behind a scrapbook telling the story of her intense love affair many years before with that same enigmatic Frenchman tending her gardens.
You’ll have to pick it up for yourself to find out what happens next, as it’s too enjoyable a read to give away more details. I can easily say that this won’t be the last book that I read by Santa Montefiore, and next on my list is her book the Last Voyage of the Valentina that is set in part on the Amalfi Coast.
One of the aspects of Montefiore’s writing that struck me the most were her vivid characters. The talented Maeve Binchy wrote once about the importance of creating characters that are interesting to readers. She wrote, “We have to care enough about the people to follow them through to the last page.” (From The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club.) I agree wholeheartedly. But, as someone who is constitutionally incapable of not finishing a book, I’d had to add one more thing. For me, good characters have to do more than just carry me to the end of the book. I’ve followed many a dull character to the end of a mediocre book, and then watched as they easily slipped away from my memory without any sadness.
Santa Montefiore has the gift as a writer to create characters I would want to get to know were they real. While I was reading The French Gardener, the characters popped up in my thoughts throughout the day, and I found myself wondering how they were doing and what they would do next. Now that is character driven plot, I realized! I didn’t wonder what would happen next, but instead I found myself emotionally connecting with them and worrying about what they would do next. I felt a sadness come over me when I turned the last page of the book, not ready yet to let go of the characters and their stories.
In addition to inspiring me to get out in the garden more, the wonderful characters and a beautiful love story that will linger in your memory are just two reasons I would recommend Santa Montefiore’s The French Gardener!