Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen


Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where everyone has a story to tell about the Waverleys. There's the house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, and the wild rumors of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Claire has always clung to the Waverleys’ roots, tending the enchanted soil in the family garden from which she makes her sought-after delicacies. She has everything she thinks she needs, until one day she wakes to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden... and Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I picked up Garden Spells in a fit of desperation yesterday (Tuesday) morning as I was leaving the house for my commute into work - I couldn’t find the book I was currently reading, so I grabbed the next book in the TBR pile. I started reading it on the station platform, waiting for my invariably late train. I read it during lunch yesterday and on my way to the doctor’s late yesterday afternoon and then finished it last night, after my whole being demanded I finish it, so I could have a good night’s rest. I had to know what happened.

The book’s two main characters Sydney and Claire, the current Waverleys in Bascom, are wonderfully sharply drawn characters in book that abounds with a wistful strangeness I’ve last seen whilst reading the original Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. There are many comparisons with Practical Magic, both the movie and the book, but Garden Spells remains its very own work of delightful fiction. I can even dare to say there are hints of The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells but again, it is not self-indulgent or even as dark as YY.

It examines closely the relationship between two very different girls birthed to a selfish and peculiar mother. You get very personal vignettes of how their lives used to be and how they worked towards changing it. Sydney particularly demands your empathy but you do not ever pity her because she is a fighter, she walks away from a truly destructive relationship with her young daughter, Bay and you cheer her on as she makes her deserved escape home, to Bascom, and to her sister Claire.

Claire’s strangeness is handled beautifully. Her unique abilities as a culinary magician (in more ways than just the literary sense) is well known and people come to her for remedies. She is the secret keeper in Bascom, the wise woman, the one everyone knows, yet very few feel inclined to make friends with her. She is an enigma, odd, weird, strange…and happy to remain so, until the new neighbour makes his intentions perfectly clear – he likes her, a lot, and nothing will stand in his way.

The books is wonderfully uplifting and great fun to read – I laughed and cried and woke up this morning feeling ontop of the world, even though I am not Barack Obama! Sarah Addison Allen has a deft touch, turning the weird and the magic into something believable but never ever into the mundane. There is a sense of awe about the mysteries the girls’ have inherited, they treat their gifts lightly and never over-think their gifts. Bascome sounds like my kind of town, filled with unique characters that never grate in their strangeness. Their oddness is not held up in a way so that you can laugh at them in a derisive way, it’s used to show you that it is okay to be a little bit on the odd-side because it is what makes us unique and different and fun to be around.

Garden Spells is a delightful read, something to pick up on a day when you might not be feeling yourself or if you are in the mood to challenge your outlook or preconceptions! I can guarantee you will enjoy it. Especially if you are a foodie – some of Claire’s creations in the book can be found at the author’s website here. Garden Spells was published in the UK by Hodder Paperbacks in May 2008. A new novel by Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen, can also now be purchased in the UK from online retailers and bookshops.

1 comment:

-.- said...

That is a beautiful cover! Wonderful review, once again.

~ Popin