For fans of Sarah Addison Allen, Aimee Bender, and Alice Hoffman, The Night Garden is a luminous novel of love, forgiveness, and the possibilities that arise when you open your heart.
Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.
Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?
“To visit the Pennywort farm was to be reminded of everything in the world that was beautiful and bountiful…luxurious and endlessly good.”
No quote better sums up the tale that is The Night Garden. This is such a compelling novel filled with loss and love, grief and happiness, hope and redemption. Lisa Van Allen has an exquisite way of creating a truly enchanted realm that is bought vividly to life with her poetic prose and rich descriptions. Her writing stretches further still with the insightful incorporation and portrayal of the various conflicted states of mind of the main characters. Their struggles are heartrending, their longings palpable, their emotions poignant. And aside from the eventful comings and goings of these leads, this novel is full of their – and quite possibly your own - life lessons that will really give you pause for reflection:
“Let her live out her days as plants did, simply ‘being’ without questioning, without the unceasing self-flagellation that comes with the human condition, the ‘why me?’ and ‘why this?’ and ‘what now?’ ”
The imagery is so real that you feel as if you are walking through the maze, pausing to rest on one of the many garden benches, and contemplating life and how to handle what comes your way:
“The only thing that stands in the way of your inner wisdom is your fear of it.”
Although one cannot help comparing it to the likes of Sarah Addison Allen, this tale is really quite original, crafted in such a beautiful way and truly magical from so many points of view – literally and figuratively. For you see the author strikes just the right balance of friendship and warmth, longing and love, all wrapped up in nature, providing a holistic escape to another somewhat magical place.
“The way to happiness wasn’t nearly as convoluted as the various channels of the maze: it was simple and straight. It was unresisting acceptance of what was.”
And the ending, we believe, is really well done. It’s not simply spelt out for you; it’s not the perfectly happy ever after. Like the rest of Van Allen’s writing, it is mystical and thought provoking and full of an undeniable sense of hope:
“He thought of how it was said that stories that seemed to end happily were merely stories that had not been told through to their bitter ends. But this, he had learned, was the line between cynics and optimists…some days would be cloudy and some days the sun would shine…but as long as the sweeping spirit of optimism (would) thrive…there would be more happiness than sadness, more vegetables than weeds.”
We found this to be an entirely captivating and delightful read, and we look forward to reading more from this exceptional author in the future.