Following on from books with colours in their titles we have those blooming with flowers. There are many to choose from on my shelves, particularly if you’re partial to a rose. However, I’ve eschewed all but one of those and added to it an iris and some clover.
Watching the Roses by Adele Geras
This is the middle part of the Egerton Hall trilogy, a sequence of three novels loosely based on fairytales and each featuring one of three school friends. Of the three, Watching the Roses is the one I find most powerful. Alice is a well-behaved, well brought-up young woman, just eighteen and preparing to leave school. She is the only, much cosseted and protected, daughter of older parents and is trustingly naive. Alice tells her own story in a notebook and the timeline moves back and forth but the central point is the night of her eighteenth birthday.
We meet Alice as she lies in her bedroom unable to communicate with anyone. From early on, the reader knows that something traumatic has happened but the full horror and its impact on Alice unfolds gradually. It’s difficult to say much more without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t read the book. What I can say, though, is that Adele Geras’s writing is sensitive and seductive. She shows us Alice trapped in a rose-filled prison as unable to leave as was Sleeping Beauty. Alice may not be physically asleep but emotionally she is comatose, drained by shock. There is, of course, resolution and the possibility at least of a fairytale type ending but that is also handled believably.
A Dark Iris by Elizabeth J Jones
Set in Bermuda, A Dark Iris entwines two stories. One is true and known across the island. This is how Elizabeth described it in a feature:
The slave story of Sally Basset is a well-known one in Bermuda. According to historical records in the 18th century, she was tried and found guilty of giving her granddaughter, Beck, poison to murder Beck’s “owners” Thomas and Sarah Foster and fellow slave Nancy. The poison was discovered, thus foiling the plot. Sally was burnt at the stake but Beck was spared the same fate because she betrayed her grandmother by giving evidence against her in court. For this reason she is often viewed in a negative light. However, I have always seen Beck as a child victim of adult complicity.Elizabeth J Jones in The Literary Cosultancy
The other story is set in 1972 and features Rebekah. At twelve, she is just about to start at the prestigious Meridian Institute. Around the time she starts her high school career, her parents separate and she is left living with her mother who is ambitious for Rebekah. However, Rebekah is a talented artist and is more interested in honing those skills than passing the exams her mother deems important. The two stories mesh as civil unrest heightens and Rebekah’s drawings start to somehow uncover more of Beck’s life.
When I first read A Dark Iris, I knew nothing of Bermuda or its history. I was sent the book because I was to interview Elizabeth at the Edinburgh Book Festival, something I duly did. It was a win-win-win situation for me: a great book I probably wouldn’t have discovered alone, a basic introduction to Bermuda, and a wonderful time spent with the author.
Clover by Susan Coolidge
Any self-respecting reader of classic girls’ stories will know What Katy Did and probably the next two books in the series (What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next). Less well-known, although not obscure, are Clover and In the High Valley. In these two books, the setting changes from Ohio to Colorado as Clover Carr, the next sister to Katy, and the youngest of the family, Phil, move there for the latter’s health. (In true storybook fashion he has outgrown his strength!) The first part of Clover fills in the gap between Katy’s engagement and return from Europe and her siblings’ departure westwards. There’s a description of Katy’s wedding, Phil’s illness and the debate about his future. And then there’s the journey to Colorado. It’s one of my favourite fictional journeys. Friends of friends, who have a private railway carriage, are travelling to San Francisco and Clover and Phil are invited to travel with them as far as Denver and the reader (well this one anyway) shares Clover’s delight in the ease that brings.
The rest of the book describes Clover and Phil’s stay in St Helen’s, high up in the mountains. Susan Coolidge plays with the amazement of the easterners who had been anticipating a one-horse town full of sick people living uncomfortably in shacks. Instead they find a place to rival any they have known in Ohio. There’s humour too with the appalling Mrs Watson, and friendship with Dr Hope and his wife and a group of young people. And a surprising reunion with the Carrs’ cousin Clarence Page which in turn leads to romance for Clover. It’s a happy book in a splendid setting so well realised that I feel sure Susan Coolidge must have been somewhere similar. Nothing of any great moment happens but we see Clover creating a home and growing into maturity as she steps out of Katy’s shadow.