Thursday, October 25, 2007

If you wish to make anything grow you must understand it

A friend recommended
Night Gardening
E.L. Swann, Hyperion, 1999.
E.L. Swann is a pen-name for Kathryn Lasky, well-known children's author.
Well she didn't just recommend it; she brought me her copy saying she just knew I'd love it. IT was given to her by another friend for the same reason. I read it once and just fell into the novel. I reveled in it's power and fell in love with the characters, Maggie and Tristan. I wept.
The novel is just filled to the brim with magical prose and lyrical narrative. For example:
". . . . Kind of half yearning and half -
well, half like he was on the edge of a dream, a very old dream.
"A very old dream," Maggie repeated softly. "How do you mean?"
""I'm not sure. you know how some people spend a life just searching
for something and don't really know what for exactly,
but they know that somewhere out there it is really there,
if they can just get to it.
Well, that is how it was with him."
And now, having finished a second reading, the book is just as satisfying, just as delicious.
I recommend this quietly moving short novel to you.
Surfing the web to find out more about E.L. Swann and the novel, I read that she had the story in mind for a long time and that the catalyst for the story was the "Secret Garden".
The novel's structure is built around quoatations from gardening books. These begin each chapter. Japanese gardens and contemplative gardens are recurrant themes in the citations. The first chapter opens with this quotation which I believe is the very essence of the novel.

If you wish to make anything grow you must understand it,
and you must understand it in a very real sense.
Russel Page, The Education of a Gardener

Maggie Flaherty Welles, only child of Irish immigrants marries into a Boston Brahmin family. She was a bright, bold, red-headed young woman who was completely taken over by the material power of Adams Welles and the entire Welles family. But for all the life and energy that she brings to the marriage, it simmers away in the alcoholic haze of her husband. Now at 61, a widow with one son and a daughter who both carry on their father's failures and weakness for alcohol, she has suffered a stroke that paralyzes her left side. Maggie, who was once an avid gardener, now painfully compares her lifeless body to her derelict garden. She only half-heartedly gives herself to her various therapies and one feels she is retreating from life. A particularly painful moment for Maggie (and for the reader) is her realization that the stroke has caused very little change in her life. In fact, she realizes, her life had been deadened by a kind of paralysis during her long, dry marriage to Adams.
The spark in the novel comes in the shape of Tristan Mallory, a silver-haired landscape gardener who is at work re-building the garden of Maggie's nearest neighbor with whom she shares a garden wall. Unaware, each is watching the other:
"Once an avid gardener, Maggie is intrigued by the activity. Tristan Mallory, the silver-haired, blue-eyed architect, recognizes a kindred soul and returns her interest. Far from being repulsed by her stroke-impaired appearance, Tristan sees Maggie as a person of rare inner beauty. They begin to meet at night to restore Maggie's garden, which has withered from the combination of Maggie's financial and physical limitations. " (Susan Scribner)
It is in their budding relationship that Maggie begins to heal, to feel life moving through her again.
"Night Gardening skillfully portrays a fleeting but powerful romance between these two mature characters . . . . . in its brief pages, Maggie's personality comes alive . . . . (Susan Scribner)
The romance is powerful and all too brief. I wanted it to go on and on.

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