Posts Tagged ‘Stephanie Barron’

white gardenMany people consider mystery novels the perfect escape. Whether you dip into the genre regularly or infrequently, Woolfians may find it hard to resist a literary “whodunit” with Virginia Woolf at its center.

Stephanie Barron preceded this novel with a series of Jane Austen mysteries; she professes to enjoy making things up about real people, knowing they might not approve of her embellishments on their lives.

The White Garden revolves around the discovery of a new diary, believed to be in Woolf’s hand, but started the day after she was supposed to have drowned herself in the River Ouse. Intending to commit suicide that day, she goes instead to Sissinghurst, where she is comforted and cared for by Vita Sackville-West.

And there’s more, much more, including Woolf’s discovery of some nefarious wartime activities involving Maynard Keynes and others in the Bloomsbury circle, but it’s all too convoluted, and I wouldn’t want to give anything away.

And of course there’s the contemporary angle. The diary is found by an American garden designer, who is at Sissinghurst in order to duplicate the White Garden for her wealthy New York employer, while at the same time trying to uncover a hidden secret in her own family. A number of people become involved in the intrigue and with each other, including the Head Gardener at Sissinghurst, manuscript specialists at Sotheby’s, and a Woolf scholar at Oxford.

Barron reminds her readers that this is fiction, hoping that they will enjoy exploring the possibilities and forgive the license that she takes. There’s plenty of that, from the bald facts of Woolf’s death and the implausibility of the plot to some manipulation of the topography, so one has to suspend disbelief and just go with it. And in the process, you can soak up the atmosphere of Sissinghurst, Monks House and Charleston Farmhouse along with Oxford and Cambridge. You could do worse!

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white gardenAmy, a blogger at On Size Fits All, e-mailed me to recommend the Stephanie Barron mystery novel just out last month titled The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf.

I have to thank her — and Google news — for the reminder. The novel had slipped from my mind after I posted about it in August. Now it’s out in print and back at the top of my must-read list.

I only found two reviews of the novel, and those were mixed.

The L.A. Times called it “intriguing” and said it “highlights not only Barron’s ability to alchemize historical fact into fiction but also her ability to present absorbing details of Sissinghurst’s gardens, history and the surrounding Kentish countryside. But reviewer Paula A. Woods also complained that the plot and characters are formulaic.

January magazine’s mini-review  says the novel is “a clever tapestry of past and present.”

I am anxious to read it and decide for myself.

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white gardenThe White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Stephanie Barron, author of a mystery series based on Jane Austen, examines Woolf’s death from the vantage point of present-day England.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, the story begins when American Jo Bellamy sets out to study the White Garden at the Sissinghurst estate of Vita Sackville-West. Bellamy is working for Long Island clients who want to recreate it and also wants to figure out why her grandfather, who worked at the garden as a youth, killed himself.

The story line includes a journal that may be Woolf’s work and a wild tour of Woolf’s stomping grounds to track down answers to questions and missing journal pages.

“While leaning on convenient stereotypes—the headstrong but clueless American; the femme fatale (with eyes like “liquid pools”); stuffy Brits—Barron invests the text with a quick pace and an absorbing plot, making this a dynamic thriller with a well-tempered literary fixation,” Publisher’s Weekly relates.

The novel is expected to be out in bookstores in September.

Update: Read reviews of Barron’s novel in January magazine and the L.A. Times.

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