2017 Reviews · dual time frame · historical fiction

Book Review: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

Title: The Midsummer Gardenmidsummer garden

Author:  Kirsty Manning

Published: March 29th 2017

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 400

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 5 stars

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.

My review:

My favourite front cover book design of the year is without a doubt is going to be awarded to The Midsummer Garden. The natural beauty of this cover, the perfect combination of colours, along with luscious plants and flowers that adorn it makes the cover a sure-fire winner for me. Cover design love aside, inside the cover pages of this novel lies a truly magical story. The Midsummer Garden takes the reader on an unforgettable adventure into the natural and botanical world. This debut novel gracefully intertwines the lives and loves of two women who live 500 years apart.

In the year 2014, Tasmanian resident Pip is undertaking the last crucial elements to attain her PhD in marine biology. Pip is a busy young woman, who juggles many hats. Along with her demanding research, Pip is in the throes of planning her upcoming wedding, while balancing part-time work in a local upmarket restaurant. When Pip and her fiancé Jack receive a set of clay pots as an engagement present, they find an old rolled up piece of parchment hidden inside the pots. On closer inspection, they discover that the parchment contains an inscription in French that appears to reference a list of foods. Pip is naturally very intrigued by this treasure and sets about trying to find out more about the origins of this relic. Pip learns the artefact has been passed down from generation to generation and it originally hails from a château in France. The recipe parchment from the château is the link that binds Pip in the present day, to an extraordinary young woman who once lived at the château in the 1400’s. Artemisia is this remarkable young woman. Artemisia is a loner when she comes to the château and is placed under the tutelage of the abbot of the château. The abbot takes Artemisia under his wing, where she flourishes in the culinary arts. Artemisia also becomes an expert herbalist. Eventually, Artemisia’s talents secure her the job of planning a magnificent banquet for the nuptials of the Lord and Lady of Chateau de Boschaud. Meanwhile, Artemisia dreams of leaving the kitchens of the château behind, in search of her true love. The Midsummer Garden represents the convergence of two romantic stories and the passions, as well as the sacrifices involved in the pursuit of personal goals.

I am very much enamoured by the debut novel by Kirsty Manning. It surprises me that The Midsummer Garden was written by a first time author. I got a sense from the very opening that the writing was confident, refined and brimming with lyrical beauty. Apart from my obvious appreciation of the quality of Manning’s writing, I was also taken with the whole concept of this novel. I have a strong interest in multi time frame books, they are my favourite style of novel and The Midsummer Garden is an example of a dual time frame novel that works well. The difficulty dual time frame narratives often suffer from if they are not done very well, is the tendency for one time frame narrative to emerge as the stronger of the two. I assure you, this is not the case in The Midsummer Garden, my interest level was spread evenly between both story lines.

Manning’s ability in this novel to issue the reader with characters we grow to care about is seamless. The characterisation of her female lead, Pip in the 2014 narrative, is simply superb. There is so much life to Pip, thanks to Manning’s writing. I loved all Pip’s idiosyncrasies and the interactions she had with her family and colleagues in the novel, she comes across as a person I could easily like in real life. Pip’s interactions with Jack are where I found my only frustrations with The Midsummer Garden. It seemed like this couple were going in circles so many times over and I began to wonder, despite their passionate reunions, whether or not their relationship was truly worth fighting for! To me, it seemed like Pip and Jack were better off without one another!  Despite my frustrations with this present day relationship, I adored the 500 year old love story between Artemisia and the merchant, Andreas. There was a measured amount of depth and feeling to this relationship that transferred to the page easily. I was utterly convinced and invested in this love story, it was a romance full of good old-fashioned heart. I loved the use of letters and the bittersweet stolen moments this couple experiences along the way. Only the inclusion of a terrible villain, which sends complications in the way of this couple, is what destroyed the true beauty of this relationship. The romance between Andreas and Artemisia was an emotionally stirring read that left me bereft by the close of the book.

Setting wise, The Midsummer Garden is a real treat for those who love to travel. The book sprawls across a number of stunning world destinations, from the coastal beauty of Tasmania, Pip’s home, through to Artemisia’s abode in the Chateau de Boschaud. Each of these locations are beautifully realised. Kirsty Manning has a great descriptive tone and an ability to convey a strong sense of place to her readers. Readers will delight in the great locations involved in the unravelling of this romantic novel, from Paris, to Spain and Tuscany.

There are so many wonderful layers to discover in The Midsummer Garden. Whilst the main narrative theme is focussed on love and self actualisation, there are many other offshoots to the narrative. Food plays a significant role in the book, resulting in an absolute feast for the senses. At many times I had to stop myself salivating over the food scenes described in the novel! It is clear that Manning has a passion for this area, which feeds into her narrative. Likewise, the focus on the value of herbs in both cooking and the medicinal properties they contain is explored well. It worked to raise my awareness of the importance of herbs. I must highlight the botanical aspects of The Midsummer Garden, which is a feast for the eyes. My senses were fully ignited while I was reading many of the beautiful landscape and gardening based scenes that pop up during the progression of The Midsummer Garden. The scent descriptors and visuals I received from these sections of the novel were sublime.

In straightforward terms, I absolutely loved The Midsummer Garden. The dual time frames, strong female leads, the picturesque locales, the historical grounding and rich food references sold this reader. If you haven’t already had the fortune of coming across The Midsummer Garden, then I hope this glowing review has convinced you to seek it out to read.  I am in complete awe of Kirsty Manning’s writing and I am now eagerly awaiting her next published piece of work.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning was published in Australia on the 29th March 2017 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Midsummer Garden, Kirsty Manning, visit here.

 

 

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