The main character in this book is Ann de Freitas.
She is forty-three, and going through a divorce. Her dream has always been to have a family, but she was unable to get pregnant, and now her husband is with a new woman who is pregnant. Ann also has a peculiar relationship with her mother Phoebe. When Ann was five, her father, who was Madeiran and who her mother had deeply in love with, left, and she has never heard from him again. Phoebe is a renowned painter, and that was her passion. She never had much inclination to play mothers and daughters, and even when Ann was an adult and not living at home any longer, Phoebe tried to keep a relationship with her daughter. A few years ago Phoebe discovered she had cancer, and the chemotherapy tampered with her nervous system, and now her limbs are in constant pain, so she has stopped painting. Ann tried to be with her mother when she had cancer, but her presence was not welcome.
It is now that her mother’s agent calls her, informing her that Phoebe is in hospital after she fell in the garden. Ann goes to her, and it is with great reluctance that Phoebe agrees to have Ann in her house while she recovers. So Ann moves in with her mother; Phoebe has a house with a big garden, which her husband loved at first sight, and Ann tries to convince her mother to sell the place and move somewhere that is more manageable and closer to her. I think that the move proves to be good for the two of them. We only know what Phoebe used to be like in the past, but I think she is learning to appreciate her daughter. I imagine that since her great passion was painting, she has no time or energy for anyone else, but now that her painting days are almost over, she is seeing some other realities. She even admits to Ann that she knows she was a bad mother. I like Phoebe; she is straightforward and fresh in her own way.
A prospective seller comes to see the house. His name is Connor Grenville, but after talking to Ann, he admits that he hasn’t really come to put forward an offer for the house. He mentions a mystery, and he tells Ann and Phoebe the story of her family. Apparently, the owners of Phoebe’s house were Mordaunts; there was a gardener, William Hatherwick, and his daughter became pregnant and had an illegitimate daughter Ivy, who is Connor’s grandmother. Ivy was adopted by the lady of the house, Hester Mordaunt. What Connor wants is to find out about his family, especially who Ivy’s father was. Actually, he was helping his grandmother, but there was an incident, and in a flashback Ivy was going through her photograph albums, retrieving photos for the book she wanted Connor to write. Then she discovered a letter hidden behind one photograph. The letter came from William, her uncle, and after reading the letter, she is in shock and furious. She plans to burn everything int he fireplace, but then she falls and some sparks come from the heart, setting fire to the rug, and even though she tries to put the fire out, Ivy dies in hospital from smoke inhalation. Ann and Phoebe agree with Connor that his grandmother must have found something, but unfortunately, there is no way they can know that.
Some time later Phoebe gets a call from the estate agent, telling him that Connor has put an offer to the house, and Phoebe accepts. Yet, when she tells Ann, she gets upset, and the two women realize that they don’t want to sell, so Phoebe calls the estate agent, and Ann calls Connor to apologize. Connor proposes something to Ann. As Ann plans to get the garden back to shape, he wants to help her design the garden, which is his profession, and make it his project to publish. Phoebe and Ann accept, and they start work together. Phoebe seems to think Connor is a nice young man, and it is clear that she thinks he could be nice for her daughter. I think there might something there.
One night there is a terrible storm, and a beech tree comes down, merely missing Phoebe’s studio. When the tree surgeons come to handle the tree, they find a tin which they hand Ann. In the tin Ann discovers a series of seed packets, but she realizes that, even though they are glued, they are empty. She wonder who could take the trouble to keep these packets in a tin if there are no seeds. When she tells Connor, they open the packets and they discover that they are covered in tiny handwriting, and they realize they are love letters. There are no names, but there is a W and an H. Ann thinks that H must mean that the letters were Hester Mordaunt, the lady who adopted Connor’s granddaughter, and I bet W must be William Hatherwick, Ivy’s uncle. I imagine that Hester and William had a love story, and I think Connor said that William didn’t return from the war, so was that the reason why Hester adopted Ivy? Because it was William’s niece?
Very interesting start. I have read all of Linda Gillard’s books to date, and I have always enjoyed them. I am sure this will be a great read as well. I am already hooked.