Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Category: Fiction
Series: No

Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where it seems that everyone has a story to tell about the Waverley women. The house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, the rumours of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic.

Claire has always clung to the Waverley’s roots, tending the enchanted soil in the family garden from which she makes her sought-after delicacies – famed and feared for their curious effects. 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 … Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.

I liked this story a lot. I even shed a bit of tears a couple of times.

To fully appreciate the essence of this story, I’d ask that you open up your mind to the possibility that magic does exist.

For generations, the Waverley women each had possessed a gift. This story is about four of them – Claire, her younger sister Sydney, Sydney’s small daughter Bay and their elderly cousin Evanelle. And an apple tree that is very much a Waverley, which means it’s no ordinary tree.

The repressed and reclusive Claire has the gift of cooking and the instinctive knowledge of the magical power of plants. She is widely sought after for her culinary delights, which are not only delicious but can affect the eaters in curious ways. Deeply hurt by the past, Claire clings to the familiar and constant, and is contented with her lonely existence.

The bright and free-spirited Sydney has the gift of hairdressing, which enables her to transform not only a person’s looks but his/her attitude, and how others perceive him/her. Sydney left home ten years ago to escape the Waverley legacy. She is now back with Bay to the only place that has ever been home.

Sweet and quiet Bay is wise beyond her years. She has the gift of knowing exactly where things belong. Bay grows up under a cloud of fear and insecurity. When her mother brings her to stay with Aunt Claire, she immediately knows this is where she belongs.

Evanelle gives gifts to people which they will need sooner or later. She doesn’t know why or when someone needs a particular item … she just knows she has to give it away. She is Claire’s solace and constant companion in the years before Sydney came home.

“I hate summer.”

Claire laughed. She loved having Evanelle around. Claire had tried for years to get the old lady to move into the Waverley house so she could take care of her, so the house wouldn’t feel as if the walls were moving out of her way as she walked, making the hallways longer and the rooms bigger. “Why on earth would you hate summer? Summer is wonderful. Fresh air, open windows, picking tomatoes and eating them while they’re still warm from the sun.”

“I hate summer because most of them college kids leave town, so there aren’t as many runners and I don’t have any nice male backsides to look at when I walk the track.”

“You’re a dirty old lady, Evanelle.”

“I’m just sayin’.”

The apple tree – quite a character, this one. It exists in the Waverley garden from the beginning. It throws apples at people, enticing them to eat. Eat an apple and one will see the biggest event in one’s life. Besides throwing apples at unsuspecting souls, it goes all out to be a part of the Waverley women’s lives.

About forty-five minutes later, Claire had finished digging a hole by the fence and was gathering up the apples that had fallen around the tree. It was humid, the air as thick as sorghum syrup, carrying a hint of the sticky summer to come.

“Stop it,” she kept saying as the tree dropped apples around her, trying to vex her. “The more you drop, the more I bury. And you know it takes you a week to grow more."

It dropped a small apple on her head.

She looked up at the branches, which were twitching slightly though there was no wind. “I said stop it.”

There are two romances here – Claire and Sydney are courted by two very different men. Their romances are at once touching, sweet and gently humorous.

She was aware of him, though. He was seated two places down from Anna, who was at the head of the table. Everyone else watched the food as it entered the room, as it was placed in front of them. But he watched her. His dark hair almost touched his shoulders, his arms and fingers long, and his lips were fuller than she’d ever seen on a man. He was … trouble.


He lifted his head to look in her eyes. “You think I’m going to leave?”

“There can’t be this forever.”

“Why do you think that?”

“No one I know has ever had this forever.”

“I think of the future all the time. All my life. I’ve chased dreams of what could be. For the first time in my life, I’ve actually caught one.” He kissed her again before grabbing his shirt and standing. “I’ll give you one day at a time, Claire. But remember, I’m thousands of days ahead already.”

Apart from the Waverleys and their men, there are many other characters who help fleshed out this story, from the sweet right down to the kooky. Their stories may be secondary, but they are no less affecting.

I found the tone and feel of the story charming, whimsical and gently amusing - I was smiling for most of the book. I loved the prose – the author used a spare style which is concise yet entirely evocative – it immediately fired up my imagination. The author didn’t shy away from deeper, darker issues which she dealt with in a direct, yet gentle and thoughtful way.

This is one of the handful of authors who had impressed me with their debut effort. I most definitely will read her next book, The Sugar Queen, now out in hardcover (US) and trade paperback (UK).

5 out of 5. I love it. It's phenomenal; in a class by itself. Sensuality rating: Subtle


Anonymous said...

Now I'll definitely be getting this one in my next order! ;-)

Jace said...

Ana, I hope you'll enjoy this story as much as I did. I intentionally included the passages from the book so that you and other readers will have an idea what the writing-style's like. I'll be looking out for your review. :)

Brie said...

Thanks for the review, Jace! You have convinced me that this book is worth buying. Can't wait to read it.

Christine said...

This sounds really wonderful. I'm going to read it as well. Thanks for the review.

Jace said...

Brie, Christine ...

I truly hope you will like this story. I'll be looking out for your reviews. :) Meanwhile, I'll be chewing my nails...