Book Review : The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans
The strongest influence over every element in this book is an appreciation of beauty. Its inextricably woven around the passions of the people who live within its pages and it bursts out of the beautiful, vivid descriptions of art, horticulture and architecture which are intrinsic in telling the story.
It’s a rolling family saga, which begins at a pivotal, dramatic moment; feted artist Ned Horner, struggling with grief and the Spanish flu (which was sweeping the country) destroys his most famous painting, The Garden of Lost and Found, to the horror of his wife Lydie, and renders them bankrupt.
It leaps from early 1900s to 2014, introducing Juliette, Ned and Lydie’s great granddaughter. She’s a fine art expert whose life is made chaotic by the juggle of motherhood and work within the confines of a failing marriage. Barely keeping her own head above water, she is ill equipped to support her eldest daughter who is struggling with her own issues.
As the book continues, rolling back to Edwardian times so that the Juliette’s ancestry can be explored, it reveals a tight knit family bond is between two Desart sisters and their brother, pitting themselves against abuse at the hand of their twisted, vengeful governess. Yet despite some desperate moments love blossoms and their lives are touched with its beauty. Young artists and architects cling together, forming a supportive network, gradually eking out some success to enhance their lives.
Returning to the present, Juliette’s life changes quite dramatically as the result of events out of her control. On many occasions it’s unclear if she’s made sound choices for herself and her young family. However returning to the ancestral home seems to have a draw she’s powerless to resist, the house itself seems to possess healing properties for Juliette’s family, as does the gradual sweeping away of anything which conceals the real truth.
I loved the author’s descriptive passages relating to the beautifully detailed arts and crafts interiors and the gloriously vibrant borders and lawns which surround Nightingale House, finding them both soothing and uplifting to read. A counterbalance to witnessing Juliette’s struggles with choking weeds, heating bills and stopping tiles sliding off the roof in her efforts to restore the place to some of its former glory. What secrets will be uncovered and which relationships will survive the transformation?
This was an epic saga told with great pace and appreciation for setting as well as characters and action. I always enjoy stories which take the reader back in time to shed light on the present. This had plenty of likeable players with twists and turns to keep me entertained: giddy highs and crushing lows. However, with relatable inevitability, life moves on, love supports and secrets never remain entirely hidden.
Content Warning: This book contains themes of child abuse, social media bullying, and tragedy.
I listened to this novel on Audible but it can be purchased from booksellers too.