Sunday, July 17, 2011

The White Garden

Peter Llewellyn would make the perfect Peter Mayle hero, a dashing book expert with a passion for food and a bewitching ex-wife.  Stephanie Barron is not Peter Mayle, but The White Garden could be a Mayle novel written from the female point of view.  The point of view is that of Jo Bellamy, a landscape designer from Delaware sent by her client/lover to visit and copy Vita Sackville-West's White Garden.  While exploring an outbuilding, Jo discovers a notebook apparently owned by her recently deceased grandfather and which appears to contain unpublished writings by Virginia Woolf.  

There's a problem with the notebook - well, more than one if you count Jo's not-quite-authorized trip to Southeby's where Peter is the resident book expert and Jo's boss Gray appearing in London and also developing an interest in the notebook.  Jo is only somewhat familiar with Virginia Woolf and doesn't realize that the diary begins the day after Woolf committed suicide.  Still, she's convinced that it's real, and Peter begins to believe her - Woolf's body wasn't found until several days after her disappearance - but if it's real, how did she die?  At this point, it would have helped if I were more familiar with the Bloomsbury Set than one would be a decade after reading a single book on the group.  Barron explains the background clearly enough that it's not necessary to know more than just the basics, and while Peter's and Jo's trip across England chasing the notebook and Peter's ex-wife, Oxford don and Woolf expert Margaux Strand doesn't quite have the lightness of a Mayle caper, it's well plotted and enjoyable.  In the end, the notebook ends up where it belongs, and Jo resolves a mystery involving her grandfather.

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