July 3, 2020

25° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast



Advertise With Us

Imagine a Victorian fairy tale set in 1968

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2013 (2393 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Emily Stoker who lived with her strict father Wilf in an English town called Billingsford.

Emily graduated from public school but stayed home to keep house for her father and help him build a massive wall between their house and next door. The wall was meant to keep out the evil neighbour Edward Black.

The Insistent Garden, Rosie Chard's second novel, has all the simplicity and lingering menace of a Victorian fairy tale. It evolves quietly into a cross between cosy mystery and romance that carries its sheltered protagonist to the threshold of the bigger world.

Chard lived in Winnipeg for half of the last decade and won Alberta's Trade Fiction Book Award in 2010 for her first novel, Seal Intestine Raincoat. She has returned to England, the country of her birth, and she now lives in Brighton.

The Insistent Garden is told in straightforward prose, but there are many things about Emily that are difficult to accept, and the plot relies too much on 11th-hour revelation and confession.

The time of the novel is 1968-69. Billingsford seems as isolated as the fantasy setting of American Richard Brautigan's 1968 cult favourite In Watermelon Sugar, though the townspeople are aware of American astronauts heading for the moon.

Mean as Wilf is, he doesn't prevent Emily from leaving the house. While he's at work, she ventures into town and even gets a part-time job. She has one friend, Una, who seems more sophisticated than Emily; that only raises the question of how Emily, now 18, could go right through school and be unfazed by her peers.

Her mother, Miriam, died when Emily was a child, yet only now is she wondering what Miriam was like and what caused her death.

Visiting overnight once a week is Emily's wicked Aunt Vivian. This nasty woman eventually moves in permanently, tormenting Emily even more than Wilf -- Vivian's brother -- does. When Wilf's at home, he spends his time either building the wall higher or putting up more wallpaper inside the house.

Meanwhile, Emily wants to raise flowers. She becomes as keen about her plants as Larry does about his garden maze in Carol Shields's Larry's Party.

She's encouraged by Archie, the old fellow who lives on the other side of the Stokers'. As her garden flourishes, she tells him, "It's the surprises that I love the most; the unexpected shape of things and the way the colours change with the height of the sun. ... I had no idea it would be like this. The growing, the flowering, it never stops."

No wonder Una tells her: "Edith, you need to meet a bloke."

The garden may be enrapturing, but there is something sinister about it, and that too is revealed in the closing pages.

Despite his brooding and his obsessive behaviour, Wilf never really comes to life, but there are some appealing lesser characters: Jean Wordsworth, the shopkeeper where Edith works, provides lively asides throughout the novel in the form of letters to her friend Gill. "She's actually quite pretty when she's not looking so worried," Jean says about Edith.

And then there is Johnny Worth, the impetuous young postman, who obviously fancies Edith.

As much as you want to give the female protagonist a good shake, you finish The Insistent Garden suspecting her life is destined to get better.

Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg writer whose latest novel is Dating.


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us