I just loved The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees. The characters start off isolated from each other and are gradually threaded together as their separate challenges and crises become interlinked. When I finished it, I wanted to start reading it all over again. The Rose Garden is the story of Mabs, Ottie, Olive and Abigail. Four completely different women who live near Hampstead Heath as the 20th century approaches. It is a time of societal and family change when women are beginning to show strength in changing their lives but when traditional barriers erected by male society and assumptions still remain.
Mark is eighteen and works in the Regent’s Canal, moving huge lumps of ice from underground storage up to the fresh air. It is a dark, dangerous job. But Mark is really Mabs Daley, working to support her brothers and sisters and Pa, who hasn’t worked since being widowed. The family lives in one room, dirty and dishevelled, but with an underlying spirit that Mabs fears won’t last much longer. Things change when she hears of a job as a lady’s companion at a house on nearby Hampstead Heath. Mabs is full of hope and plans that at last she’ll be able to raise the fortunes of her family. But though her employer Mr Finch is sanguine about her lack of experience and unpolished manners, Mrs Finch locks Mabs out of the room.
When Olive Westallen, a single, educated, wealthy woman in her late twenties, decides to adopt a child from a nearby children’s home, even her liberal parents are concerned. She calls her new daughter Clover and for the first few weeks everything seems delightful until Clover’s behaviour inexplicably changes.
Twelve-year old Otty is bored. Stuck at home waiting to start her new school, her father is at work, her mother keeps to her room while her older brothers and sisters live their own lives. Recently moved to London from Durham, she has no friends so starts exploring the local area alone. In a spot of bother by the canal she’s rescued by Jim, a young ‘darkie’ who reveals himself to be Jill. As Jill explains the problems living as a black girl in the city, Otty struggles to understand the reasons for this inequality and prejudice.
To say how Mabs, Olive, Otty and Abigail become acquainted is to give away too much of the plot. Tracy Rees is wonderful at creating a small world with a world [as she did in the South Yorkshire mining villages in The House at Silvermoor] and populates them with struggling, flawed characters who you just want to succeed.
Ultimately a story of friendship, at the heart of The Rose Garden are women who want more to life than marrying a man and becoming his property. They want the freedom to make their own life choices, to work, to marry, to be educated, to move around freely and unthreatened, to own what is rightfully theirs. Independently and together, they fight back against injustice, control, expectations and the law of the time.
Don’t miss it.
BUY THE BOOK
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ROSE GARDEN by @AuthorTracyRees #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lW via @SandraDanby