Title: The Rose Garden
Author: Tracy Rees
Publisher: Macmillan, London
Publication date: 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewer: Peta Browne
Tracy Rees writes enjoyable historical novels featuring strong and resilient women who, out of choice or necessity, often defy the traditional restrictions of 19th century life.
In The Rose Garden, several women from different walks of life find their lives entwined as a result of one family’s secrets.
Mrs Finch, her twelve-year-old daughter Ottilie, and her companion Mabs, along with privileged heiress Olive Westallen, are brought together by Mrs Finch’s mysterious illness.
This illness recently resulted in the family’s hasty exit from Durham in the north of England, to London, ostensibly so Mr Finch can take advantage of a new career opportunity.
The novel highlights that the picture-perfect image of some people’s lives, and the way they present themselves publicly, is not always the same as the reality that lies behind closed doors.
It also gives great insight into how ripe for abuse women were in those days with men having such control over their health, well-being, and treatment.
The beliefs held at the time around the delicacy of the female brain and the supposed negative impacts to same from education or reproductive matters also served to ensure women were not in control of their own bodies and lives.
The Rose Garden effectively brings these issues home for the reader.
The story also provides an interesting tour of London, from the danger of the canals and the cramped conditions of impoverished living to Hampstead Heath and the grand houses.
It possibly does romanticise and neatly solve several issues, which in real life would have been a lot more complex, but it does it with grace and empathy so that it retains plausibility.
I enjoyed this story and have found all of Rees’s novels to be well worth a read.
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