Over the past 6 or 8 months, I have read many books but none of them have really grabbed me. I don’t have a lot of time to read, so sometimes it might be a week before I can steal a few moments to catch up with my latest, and I was finding that it was difficult to re-immerse myself in the story each time. I wasn't sure, at the time, if it was due to the fact that I didn't have much time to really get into it or if the stories weren't compelling enough to call me back to my Kindle. I found myself skimming more than actually reading and then, of course, I’d miss things and the book would be less interesting than it was before. I was beginning to wonder if I were changing in some way, if I were failing to appreciate, to connect, to identify and relate.
Then an acquaintance recommended Susanna Kearsley's TheRose Garden.
I’m a sucker for a good time-travel story, so much so that I started a time-travel discussion group on one of my online forums. I was surprised when one of my forum-mates recommended books by this author I had never heard of. I checked the blurbs on Amazon and had to admit, they sounded good. So I downloaded The Rose Garden to my Kindle and began reading right away.
The first thing I realized was that the problem I’d had with the last I-don’t-know-how-many-books was not me! The Rose Garden is extremely well-written and hits the ground running. I was immediately appreciative of the style and immediately caught up in the story. The characters are well-defined and the setting—an old stone mansion in Cornwall—is a superb locale for time-travel. Descriptions of the home and the surrounding countryside are vibrant and incorporate all the senses; I actually felt like I could smell the sea air, feel the salt spray on my skin. I began to wish I lived in a place that was so deeply steeped in hundreds—thousands—of years of history.
So the very first day of reading I was able to get through about 20% of it (you know Kindle—no page numbers, just percentages). I was loathe to put it down, but the rest of my life was calling. As I reluctantly turned my attention to my other tasks, I realized I was looking out through the semi-transparent veil of great-book-residue. This is very hard to describe, but anyone who has ever been in the grip of an excellent book will know the feeling. It’s like looking through a window and seeing the world beyond, yet also seeing in the glass the reflection of the room behind you. You see one overlaid on the other and you can focus your attention on one or the other as you wish. This was what I was doing, seeing the real world around me, yet the feeling of the book overlaid it all, softening it, giving it a dreamy quality. While attending to what I needed to, I was also wondering what the characters were going to do next, what the turn of the story would be when I got back to it. It was luscious agony imagining what might happen but being unable to continue the story.
After my second long sit with the book, I went outside for a much-needed exercise break. It felt very much like dragging myself up out of a delicious dream when I would much rather have scrunched down under the covers and given myself up to sleep again. My immersion in ancient gray Cornwall jangled with my view of cactus and palm trees reaching up into the fiercely blue Arizona sky, their palm fronds rattling softly in the sun-warmed breeze. My “real” world felt unnatural to me, as if the book were the truth and my view of Tucson were the make-believe. I could not wait to get back into the story.
While reading, I found the book impelled me in three different directions. First of all, of course, I wanted to finish the book as quickly (or as slowly, see below) as possible. Secondly, I wanted to record my impressions here while they were fresh, even as they were forming. Thirdly, I wanted to get back to my own current work in progress, as The Rose Garden inspired me to paint my own words with the same glowing brush. I needed three sets of hands, three brains and three sets of eyes!
Reading a great book is like sitting down to a succulent meal; it’s a struggle to balance the desire to gobble up everything as quickly as possible against the need to savor every bite, to make it last as long as humanly possible. Wanting to know what happens next goads me on to read faster; the delicate descriptions of dappled shadows in the woods and waves breaking on a rocky coast invite me to linger. This delicious tension is the true mark of a good story; it holds us, it embraces us and carries us effortlessly toward completion.
And the completion of the story leaves us with a glowing satisfaction, tinged with sadness at the leaving.
But the good news is, I can go back any time and visit again. Granted I’ll know the story, know the twists and turns of it, but I’ll also know the characters, and seeing them again will be like seeing treasured old friends. Here I've only just left and I’m already looking forward to that next visit.
The Rose Garden, by Susanna Kearsley, is about as perfect a book as I could want.