Friday, January 30, 2015

What we're reading: Time Travel Romance

The Rose Garden, by Susanna Kearsley

This author had been recommended to my cousin, who is a fan of Diana Gabaldon and Daphne du Maurier, both of whom have been cited in cover blurbs for Kearsley's books. So when she and I went into a bookstore last weekend, we agreed to buy the book and I would read it first (being the faster reader) before passing it along to her.

The protagonist of the book is Eva Ward. Her much-loved elder sister, Katrina, who was a movie star, has died, and Eva is returning her ashes to Cornwall in the south of England, to scatter them near Trelowarth House, where they spent childhood summers. Family friends still occupy the house--rose grower Mark, his sister Susan, their stepmother Claire--and she is invited to stay for as long as she likes. She becomes embroiled in Susan's scheme to start a tea room adjacent to the rose gardens, in order to bring in some much-needed extra cash to the estate. But all of this is mere scene-setting for the main story: Eva finds herself inadvertently time-travelling back to Trelowarth House as it was in 1715, where she encounters the Butler brothers and their Irish friend Fergal O'Cleary, smugglers and supporters of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. The historical details are not as vital to this book, however, as is the romance between Eva and Daniel Butler, lovers separated by time.

I was frustrated by this book at first. I genuinely liked what was happening in the present-day and wanted to stick with it--I wanted to know what happened with the tea room and so on, and the time travel seemed superfluous and trivial, compared to the present-day events. Also, there was no real explanation for why the time travel was happening (until later, and then it was slight), and everyone in the past seemed to accept it much too easily. A young, attractive woman materializes in your bedroom, announces she's from 300 years in the future, and your reaction is to give her a dress to wear and warn her not to speak because someone might notice her odd accent? Hmmm. Also, nobody in the present knows what's going on, and it seemed simply too convenient the way she was able to go back and forth and never miss a beat, picking up life at both ends with no ill effects or reactions.

But as I read further into the book, I became intrigued by the problems and the relationships, and then about three-quarters of the way in, it took a really interesting twist and suddenly I really liked the story, which feeling lasted to the end.

This author has been compared, as I mentioned earlier, to Daphne du Maurier (probably because of the Cornwall setting) and to Diana Gabaldon (because of the time travel), and (I feel sure) to both of them because of the romance; but I honestly thought Kearsley wrote and told her stories more like Mary Stewart (her book Thornyhold comes to mind) or maybe Rosamund Pilcher. The book is about halfway between Pilcher's simple formulaic romances from the '70s and her more serious, detailed, longer books like The Shell Seekers.

didn't think The Rose Garden was on a level with either du Maurier or Gabaldon; but, at the very least, it was a diverting read. I will seek out others of her books and see what I think.

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