I love time slip stories & I’ve enjoyed all of Susanna Kearsley’s novels so I was predisposed to enjoy The Rose Garden. And I did! It’s a beautifully romantic, engaging story that I read in 100 page gulps. Eva Ward is a PR consultant living in Los Angeles. Her parents are dead & her sister, Katrina, is dying. After Katrina’s death, Eva takes her sister’s ashes back to the house in Cornwall where they had spent happy summers with family friends. Trelowarth House is home to the Halletts. Uncle George is dead but his second wife, Claire, lives in a cottage in the grounds while her stepchildren, Mark & Susan, live in the big house. Mark runs a rose nursery & Susan has returned from Bristol to help, full of plans for tea rooms & enticements for tourists.
As Eva relaxes into the familiar rhythms of life at Trelowarth, she becomes aware of voices in empty rooms & one day she steps back into the past, back to Trelowarth in the early 18th century. She meets Daniel Butler & his brother, Jack, Daniel’s friend & ally, Fergal O’Cleary, & Constable Creed, who will do anything to see the Butlers hang. The Butlers are smugglers but they’re also distantly related to the Duke of Ormonde, who is planning a rebellion to put the Pretender, James Stuart, back on the English throne. It’s 1715 & the death of Queen Anne has seen the Protestant House of Hanover preferred over the Queen’s Catholic half-brother, James. James’s supporters, the Jacobites, are plotting to overthrow King George & the Butlers are in the thick of it.
Eva’s presence is disconcerting but she’s soon accepted by Daniel & the immediate attraction between them grows stronger. Even Fergal, suspicious & anxious, accepts Eva & she masquerades as his mute sister, just over from Ireland, as she learns the ways of an 18th century household. Jack, with his easy ways & loose tongue, isn’t allowed into the secret, & Constable Creed, who hates Daniel for personal as well as political reasons is a threatening presence in all their lives. Eva’s knowledge of the future is a heavy burden as she researches the Butlers in the present day & becomes more involved in their lives when she slips through the barrier. Time moves differently in the past. Eva spends days with Daniel in the past but when she returns to the present, she’s only been absent a split second. As her love for Daniel grows stronger, Eva has to make a decision about where her future lies & find a way to make it happen.
The Rose Garden is full of the magic of Cornwall. There are echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornish novels, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek & The House on the Strand especially. I loved all the detail about the roses & Susan’s plans to make the business a success. I was equally interested in the modern & 18th century stories & that isn’t always the case with time slip novels. Although, I must admit, Daniel Butler was such a romantic figure that I wouldn’t have minded spending more time in his company. I could fully understand Eva’s desire to stay with him & her growing dissatisfaction with the present. The 18th century Trelowarth was as real to me as the 21st century house. The characters were convincingly historical, their speech was different without any thees & thous which can be jarring. I could understand why Daniel & Fergal didn’t want Eva to speak to strangers – her speech & manner would have been so strange. There’s excitement, adventure, tragedy & romance in The Rose Garden, it’s a compelling read.