A luminous debut novel about love, the trauma of war and the miracle of human resilience, for readers of Anna Hope, Sadie Jones and Elizabeth Jane Howard.
No one survives war unscathed. But even in the darkest days, seeds of hope can grow.
It is 1946 and in the village of Oakbourne the men are home from the war. Their bodies are healing but their psychological wounds run deep. Everyone is scarred – those who fought and those left behind.
Alice Rayne is married to Stephen, heir to crumbling Oakbourne Hall. Once a sweet, gentle man, he has returned a bitter and angry stranger, destroyed by what he has seen and done, tormented by secrets Alice can only guess at.
Lonely and increasingly afraid of the man her husband has become, Alice must try to pick up the pieces of her marriage and save Oakbourne Hall from total collapse. She begins with the walled garden and, as it starts to bear fruit, she finds herself drawn into a new, forbidden love.
Set in the Suffolk countryside as it moves from winter to spring, The Walled Garden is a captivating love story and a timeless, moving exploration of trauma and the miracle of human resilience.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite and to the publisher for the copy to review via Netgalley. The Walled Garden was published by Manilla Press/Zaffre on 13 March 2023 and is available in ebook, audio, hardback with the paperback to follow.
Set in a small Suffolk village, just after the end of the Second World War, The Walled Garden is a slower paced, character driven novel focusing on the aftermath of war. Broken bodies and broken minds was how I thought of the men in this story. Wives and partners that had stepped up to the war effort in their own way, frustrated at having to take a back seat now that the men have returned to reclaim their job alongside those women having to cope with the loss of their children killed during battle and their husbands, survivors of a most terrible experience.
The main focus of the village is Oakbourne Hall, a crumbling, dilapidated building following the departure of the occupying Canadian soldiers. Alice Rayne and her husband, Sir Stephen face a desperate future – not only is there little money to repair the house that has been in Stephen’s family for generations but her husband, tormented by his wartime experiences is unable to articulate his mental torture to Alice and instead pulls away and retreats into the attic and into himself and is far from the loving and gentle man that Alice married.
There are others suffering similarly, including the local GP, Dr Downes, once a brilliant surgeon but who has returned from a POW camp with life changing injuries and an almost obsessive desire for change concerning social justice and equality. In constant pain, he has a kind word for his patients but his wife Jane and their children only see a frustrated, bitter and argumentative man. A newcomer to the village is Reverend George Ivens. A talented young clergyman who has been moved to the country away from the bombsites of London for health reasons.
Beautifully and sensitively written, Sarah Hardy’s evocative debut explores themes of regret, love, loss and the repercussions of war on both the survivors who returned and the loved ones left behind. It seems that everyone was just expected to pick up their lives as before and get on with it, despite the horrendous ordeal suffered. Shut out of her husband’s life, Alice finds solace and comfort elsewhere, and uses her love of nature and plants to take on the enormous task of rebuilding part of the Hall’s garden. As one of the main characters, Alice was probably the one I sympathised with the most. She was desperate to help her husband but helpless in the face of his total refusal and inability to confide in her.
I think two words sum up the book for me. Resilience and hope as these characters try to cope with a new world. It is an extraordinary debut and a story that won’t be rushed. It is at times heartbreaking and the mental anguish intense. There are many novels set against the background of the Second World War but this definitely deserves its place amongst them.
Sarah Hardy has lived for the last 10 years on the Suffolk coast which is where her novel is set.
Before that she lived in London, Dublin and the Hebrides.
She has worked on national magazines and newspapers.
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