I've always used Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series as the yardstick with which to measure any book containing even a whiff of time travel. Up until Susanna Kearsley's novel, A Winter Sea (reviewed here in May, 2011) any and all have fallen short. With The Rose Garden, Ms. Kearsley's newest effort, I think even Ms. Gabaldon has met her match. The Rose Garden is a sumptuous love story, one which encompasses three centuries and will warm the coldest of the coming winter nights. I am not being flowery or overdramatic here. I mean it. It is that good. The writing is so descriptive and the characters so real, I could envision every paragraph of every page as if I were a part of the story too. That to me is the mark of a truly great book.
Eva Ellen Ward has recently lost her older sister Katrina, a celebrated movie actress, to an unnamed disease. Katrina's husband entrusts Eva to take his wife's ashes and spread them "where she was happiest." Eva, who worked public relations for her sister, knows just where that place is, and travels from Los Angeles to Cornwall and specifically to Trelowarth, the house and rose farm where the two girls spent many happy summers as guests of their late "Uncle"George and Claire Hallett, friends of their father's. Twenty years after she last stepped foot in the house she's welcomed back by Claire, as well as George's children Mark (Katrina's first love), and Susan, Eva's former playmate. When she starts to experience what she thinks are hallucinogenic episodes, she chalks it up to sleeping pills and grief over losing her sister. When the episodes become frighteningly real, Eva has to accept the fact that she is indeed straddling a time line that takes her in and out of the Trelowarth of 1715. She meets the then owners of the house, brothers Daniel and Jack Butler, and their loyal friend Fergal. She is also a witness to the sowing of the seeds of the first Jacobite uprising, the plot to bring King James from France to assume his place on the British throne. What she doesn't anticipate are her feelings for Daniel Butler, who knows exactly what she is and not only accepts it, but returns those same feelings, seemingly tenfold. It is at this point in the novel where Ms. Kearsley infuses Daniel with a romanticism not often found in male protagonists, and allows Daniel to sum up their love with these words, "whatever time we have, will be time enough." Prosaic words for a man who falls in love with a time traveler with no control of her appearances and disappearances, except when she's away from Trelowarth itself.
While the notion of time travel can be a hard sell in a story, Ms. Kearsley makes Eva's experience entirely believable. It fits so well and flows so naturally here, that this reader did not question it as far-fetched fantasy. I actually caught myself thinking that anything is possible, and who's to say that something like this could not in fact, actually happen? I would make a wager that this reaction is not uncommon when reading this novel. And that's certainly a tribute to Ms. Kearsley's story telling abilities.
Without getting into too much more detail because this is a story best read and savored (and believe me, you don't want me to give this part away), there is one surprise toward the end of the book that will leave you so enthralled, you'll read it over and over, just to help you work out all the brilliant clues left that you may have missed beforehand. These clues are scattered like breadcrumbs on a trail helping you find your way back from whence you came. It's masterfully done and adds an additional dimension to what was already a brilliant story.
It seems I've gotten into the habit of saying this for this author's work; The Rose Garden, by Susanna Kearsley is a must read. And as they say, there's no time like the present....