My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Edith Stoker’s father is building a wall in their backyard. A very, very high wall–a brick bulwark in his obsessive war against their hated neighbour Edward Black.
It is 1969, and far away, preparations are being made for man to walk upon the moon. Meanwhile, in the Stokers’ shabby home in the East Midlands, Edith remains a virtual prisoner, with occasional visits from her grotesque and demanding Aunt Vivian serving as the only break in the routine.
But when shy, sheltered Edith begins to quietly cultivate a garden in the shadow of her father’s wall, she sets in motion events that might gain her independence… and bring her face to face with the mysterious Edward Black.
The Insistent Garden is, at first glance, a quiet, contained book, but it contains so much: Coming of age, sexual awakening, mental illness, poetry, and family secrets. Grab a blanket and a cup of tea – it’s a perfect read for the colder days ahead.
Edith’s life stalled when high school ended, and she lives in a household that seems to have stalled sometime in the 1940s – no TV, no washing machine, homemade clothes. While her friends move on to college, Edith is stuck at home caring for her father, who is obsessed with his next-door neighbour and spends all of his free time building a wall between their backyards. Her father’s sister is an evil-stepmother character who ruins at least one of Edith’s days each week with her overnight visits. Her father reads about the moon landing in the paper; the outside world may as well be the moon to Edith.
Edith is not literally stuck in the house. The door isn’t locked. She’s held back by fear: ostensibly of what might happen if her father were left to his own devices, but also of what might happen to her. This is all she knows and she’s been taught to fear outsiders.
Chard talks about the claustrophobia of the story in an interview (listen here) but I didn’t feel stifled. The story begins just as the cracks in Edith’s life are starting to show. She only needs to wander a few blocks from home before she starts bumping into a strange group of characters who work together in mysterious ways to reveal the truth about Edith’s long-dead mother, about her father’s obsession, and about her neighbour, Edward Black. Edith’s awakening takes place as the garden she plants in the shadow of her father’s wall takes root. Continue reading