On Hist Fic Saturday
Let's go back to ...19th Century England
|Rossdale Print Productions|
30 May 2022
My thanks to the author for my copy of this book
A boy with his head in the clouds. A man with a head full of dreams.
1884. The symptoms of scarlet fever are easily mistaken for teething, as Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya discover at the cost of their two infant sons. Freya immediately isolates for the safety of their unborn child. Cut off from each other, there is no opportunity for husband and wife to teach each other the language of their loss. By the time they meet again, the subject is taboo. But unspoken grief is a dangerous enemy. It bides its time.
A decade later and now a successful businessman, Robert decides to create a pleasure garden in memory of his sons, in the very same place he found refuge as a boy – a disused chalk quarry in Surrey’s Carshalton. But instead of sharing his vision with his wife, he widens the gulf between them by keeping her in the dark. It is another woman who translates his dreams. An obscure yet talented artist called Florence Hoddy, who lives alone with her unmarried brother, painting only what she sees from her window.
📖 My review...
The powerful start of the story resonated as I too had a dangerous dose of scarlet fever as a tiny baby but thanks to modern medicine I lived to tell the tale, unlike the situation in which Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya find themselves in at the start of this fascinating story.
Shielding their grief from one another Robert and Freya move through the years of their lives like automatons, communicating on a level which isn't really communication at all but is merely going through the motions of living their lives bereft with sorrow. Years later, and now a successful businessman, Robert, still with his head full of dreams, takes an interest in purchasing a parcel of land on which to build a pleasure garden and in doing so works through his feelings of loss for those who he has loved and lost.
Small Eden looks at the challenges of grief in a time when people seemed to wallow in despair but as we discover by channeling his energy Robert Cooke allows his grief to have a focus and with the help of those who work on the garden with him a story of resilience and fortitude starts to shine through. Everything in the story comes together so beautifully, with an immediate sense of atmosphere, and a true sense of historical accuracy, which the author develops with such skill and fine attention to detail.
Based on the author's research into her family home, Small Eden is not a story to rush as there is much to think about but it is rather one to take at a more leisurely pace in order travel back through time to the intricacies of the late Victorian era.
🍵Best read with... Tea, from a beautifully patterned teacup and saucer
Jane Davis’ first novel, 'Half-Truths and White Lies', won a national award established with the aim of finding the next Joanne Harris. Further recognition followed in 2016 with 'An Unknown Woman' being named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine/the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, as well as being shortlisted in the IAN Awards, and in 2019 with 'Smash all the Windows' winning the inaugural Selfies Book Award. Her novel, 'At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock' was featured by The Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950s, selected as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice, and shortlisted for the Selfies Book Awards 2021.
Interested in how people behave under pressure, Jane introduces her characters when they are in highly volatile situations and then, in her words, she throws them to the lions. The themes she explores are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster
Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, in what was originally the ticket office for a Victorian pleasure gardens, known locally as ‘the gingerbread house’. Her house frequently features in her fiction. In fact, she burnt it to the ground in the opening chapter of 'An Unknown Woman'. In her latest release, Small Eden, she asks the question why one man would choose to open a pleasure gardens at a time when so many others were facing bankruptcy?
When she isn’t writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.