Title: The Winter Garden
Author: Alexandra Bell
Release Date: 2/9/2021
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 39
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free physical copy from Del Rey UK in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.
You are invited to enter an unusual competition.
I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.
On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.
Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.
Now all she has to do is win.
There is just such a beautiful melancholy to this book. It isn’t quite the magical adventure that the blurb promises but instead is set in such a fabulous magical world while exploring grief and depression in a sensitive and gorgeous way. We really explore the ups and downs of love, marriage, friendship, motherhood and the societal expectations of the time. Explored through two perspectives of friends that found themselves flung into competition.
I really liked the individual stories of each of the perspectives but I do feel we got a little short changed when it came to Beatrice’s adventures, the focus seemed to be more on Rosa. To the point where this felt like Rosa was the main character and Beatrice became quite overlooked, despite her being our introduction to the Winter Garden itself. I felt more connected to Beatrice and did not have much sympathy for Rosa so felt a little disconnected that the character I enjoyed slowly edged out of the story and was no longer the main focus.
The magic of the world is fantastic and having studied botany myself I loved how much botany was explored and the magic of all the plants and gardens. I loved how different the approaches to the pleasure gardens were between the two perspectives and how they applied magic in such individual ways. The descriptions of the various gardens has a real night circus vibe to it. I just wanted to spend the majority of the book exploring all the different types of magic. While magic was a large part of this world I still feel it never really fully got time to shine, the story focusing more on Rosa and her personal journey. I wanted to spend far much more time in each garden than we actually got.
Another reservation I have as a childless women I do not feel this book was aimed at me. Despite one of the main characters choosing to be childless and the platitudes at the end towards that decision it did feel a bit of an afterthought and that this book is more focused on motherhood and the joy’s and grief of motherhood. While it was a beautiful exploration of grief, from the blurb I was expecting more of a magical adventure about over coming societal expectations and none of that was truly delivered. I liked the story I was presented over all but it disappointed expectations a little.
However, the writing is gorgeous and filled with gorgeous descriptions and emotion that truly made even the dark subject matter covered have a beautiful quality to them. The writing made this an enjoyable read from start to finish.