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Review: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

on March 30, 2017

The Midsummer Garden
Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin
2017, 382p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {via the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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.

I’ve had a bit of a run lately with books where I’ve struggled a bit to sit down and write the review because they’ve been books that I just unfortunately, didn’t connect with. I end up staring at my screen for far longer than I should or distracting myself with social media, etc.

In many ways, this book was another one of those. There are two timelines and they both sounded really interesting but I just wasn’t drawn into either story. In the modern day story, Pip is working on her PhD, planning a wedding and her fiance wants to buy out his parents winery, which has just had a very generous offer from a big company. When Pip wants to finish her PhD before the wedding and rethink an overseas trip, her fiance Jack can’t understand why it’s all about her when really, everything he is doing is affecting them both as well. Both Pip and Jack want things and quite frankly, their visions seem quite different. I couldn’t really understand why, after the break up, they both kept coming back together only to disagree on something (or the same thing) and part ways again. I think that if they’d actually parted ways properly it would’ve allowed the novel to have a clearer focus instead of always weaving in the reunions and conflicts with Jack. I didn’t enjoy the constant reappearance of Jack into the narrative and honestly felt like Pip was a more focused, settled person when she was on her own. She had the freedom to explore both her academic and cooking lives without the added pressure and judgement from Jack. Their relationship didn’t really seem like an equal one, both of them had their own goals and desires and at times, they seemed to really conflict.

The other story takes place in 1487 and I was kind of ambivalent about it. It was honestly hard to really get behind a female character that had so little power and autonomy. I know that this is probably historically accurate, servants belonged to the household and were subject to their whims and orders but there’s such a unlikeable character in this section that it’s almost comical. It became almost a chore to read through each section to find what sort of unfair, terrible thing would happen to Artemisia this time. The conclusion of this also seemed to escalate rather quickly! I wanted a bit more about the love story – the letters were a beautiful idea.

One thing I did really enjoy was the food component of this novel – in fact it was probably my favourite thing. Artemisia is a cook, preparing for the upcoming nuptials of the daughter of the house and the celebration is going to be lavish. She was taught a lot about herbs by the prior Abbott of the Chateau and the descriptions of what she uses are lovingly detailed. Likewise in the contemporary story, Pip works in a restaurant whilst completing her PhD and also travels overseas to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain that specialises in molecular gastronomy. The love of food the characters have and respect they have in the preparation of it is something that’s very clear on the page and I loved reading about Pip digging for Tasmanian clams or tasting tapas in Spain. The locations were also depicted really well, from the icy waters off the coast of Tasmania to the hills of Tuscany. It’s just unfortunate that I found a lot of the character’s motivations a bit puzzling and I struggled to really connect to them and their situations.

6/10

Book #60 of 2017

The Midsummer Garden is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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One response to “Review: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

  1. A 6/10 is definitely not getting me hooked.

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