It's been over a week since I finished The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys and I'm still not sure what to say about it. On one hand, I feel like I should be writing something beautiful and poetic to do justice to such a wonderful novel. On the other, I want to give away as few details of the story as possible so that anyone else who decides to read it can fully experience it for themselves.
I've decided to give my second concern precedence, so all I'll reveal about the story is that it centers around Gwen Davis, a lonely, thirty-something horticulture expert who flees WWII London for the English countryside where she takes up a post in the Land Army, leading a group of girls who plant and harvest crops on the grounds of an old estate. One recurring theme that Gwen returns to throughout the book is her affinity for Virginia Woolf's writing. At one point, remembering her reaction to one of Woolf's novels, Gwen thinks, "I kept expecting the story to drop me, but it held me up, kept me buoyant". This quote perfectly describes how I felt about The Lost Garden. It's a small novel (under 200 pages) that I could have polished off in a couple of hours, but I kept setting it aside, consciously wanting to savor every moment of the story and extend the experience of reading it for as long as possible. The writing is word-perfect, using deliberate and gorgeous prose to explore the ways in which relationships that are fleeting, ephemeral, or even largely internalized, still have the power to add love and meaning to a life. I truly can't recommend this book highly enough, even though I can't seem to find a more eloquent way of describing it.