Review: The Walled Garden by F.M. Parkinson

William Ashton, retained as a gardener by Edward Hillier, discovers his new master to be a detached and driven man. Over the years, as travail and tragedy bring them closer together, he understands that they have more in common than he first realised, but the affection they feel for one another will be sorely tested by boundaries both of class and of rigid Victorian morality. Like the private garden behind the high walls their love must flourish only in the strictest secrecy – or else it will not do so at all.

102,000 words/380 pages /ebook only

Review by Erastes

I’m in two minds about this book.

While I have to say I appreciated most of the writing–which is deliberately done in an old-fashioned, if not quite Victorian style–this book annoyed me quite a lot for various reasons.

Firstly nothing much happens and while some may say that it’s simply a gentle, old-fashioned style it takes more than an old-fashioned style to create an old fashioned book.  Emma, Jane Eyre and books like that had plenty of things happening. Instead of things happening, this book contained what seemed like nothing much more than filler in many places–there’s a section where Hillier’s manager is getting old and gets replaced which is entirely pointless and dull for example and goes on for pages. The problem is that much of this filler is relatively pointless or if it seems to have a point, then it’s never followed up.

It takes the protagonists an endless age to get together, and that’s not exactly filled with angst filled nights, or rivals for affections, or anything particularly interesting. It’s simply because Hillier doesn’t find Ashton attractive until quite late in the day. To be honest, I can’t see what on earth Ashton saw in Hillier because his behaviour and attitude is pretty unpleasant–although he’s like that with more than Ashton. He’s much loved in the village which puzzled me because he wasn’t shown as doing anything for them other than at one point attending another pointless scenario–a ball on behalf of a campaign for laying drains. Other than that he does nebulous work “writing letters” and attending Parliament.

There’s an overuse of the hurt/comfort trope which raises its head not once, not twice but a colossal three times throughout the book, each time Hillier getting ill and Ashton running around getting him well and getting literally no thanks for it. This, aside from them having an argument, is the main use of conflict and together with lack of plot made for pretty dull reading.

However, although not very exciting–and we can’t always have post-chaise chases and gun fights in every book, it’s quite readable, and if it wasn’t for the final problem that had me grinding my teeth it would have got a 3.

It’s epithets. There are a record winning number of epithets in this book and I got to the stage of bursting into laughter when I found a new one. It’s like the author had had a rule sheet which said “you must never use the character’s name more than once on a page.”

Hillier is known as the lawyer, alternately, but Ashton wins the prize as “the broader man” “the gardener”, “the secretary” “the former gardener”, “the former secretary” and many many others. When there’s a scene with just the two of them it’s like there’s six people in the room. I hope, should Parkinson do another book, they will–or their editor will–ruthlessly red-pen this habit as it’s annoying as hell.

So while I appreciated the writing–mostly–the story didn’t so much grab me as much as mire me in treacle and I found it a heavy going read. But you might enjoy it more than I.

No website that I could find.

Buy at Manifold Press

3 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, along with the innocence regarding epithets so many authors also lose their own voice and become quite generic.

    Just recently so noticed with someone who used to be a very delightful, young British author. Now she reads bland, americanised, sanitised – and ultimately very uninteresting. She used to be an automatic buy for me, I’m much less into her books now.

    Read one, you read them all. Once authors go down the route of rules they lose their sparkle these days.

    I’ve no recipe, except maybe to not condemn things outright.

    • I’m not saying it’s a rule not to use epithets, but I can’t handle there being so many people in a two-person scene that you think extra people have wandered in off the street. It would have been a much cleaner read if the author had just stuck to the surnames–I think it’s more rife in gay fiction because people worry that “he” and “he” is going to be confusing, but that’s easily dealt with with careful writing and editing.

      I’m not condemning it, I’d certainly read this author again.

      • That (using surnames or first names only) is what I am referring to.

        I noticed (with the author I am talking about), because she used to write gay fiction with a judicious, perfectly fine mixture of name, one well-chosen epithet per character and nifty structure: wonderful, individual, just right.

        This month I read her latest work and she sticks to names-only, so much that I came across them like 20-30 times per page. Yes, I knew what was taking place, thank you. No, the many repetitions did not vanish into invisibility like ‘he said, she said.’ They stuck out and they always stick out to me.

        When I looked closer she had adapted to several of the allegedly ‘absolutely necessary writing rules’ and I guess she ended up with a new editor who works by the book.

        I don’t say a hundred tacky epithets are great. Please don’t get me wrong! But we look down upon them (as on e.g. adverbs or ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’ or on metaphors etc.) only since very recently. These all are no objective errors. Squashing everything ‘just because’ does disservice to those writers with a talented, individual voice.

        Just my personal opinion of course, but I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I have become disenchanted with books which sound as if they all have been written by the same central sweat shop.

        This also wasn’t meant as any disagreement with your review, I haven’t even read this particular book. It’s just that yours was the umpteenth time I read about ‘epithets should be eradicated’ and realised why I suddenly disliked the work of an author I used to adore.

        So please, I’m sorry to state this so baldly and out of order.

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