Monday 19 February 2018

A timely reminder to stop and smell the roses

We're all going on a summer holiday. Whether that means a week in Bali or in Ballybunion, chances are you'll be spending a few bob on something light to read. And you could do worse than slipping The Rose Garden into your suitcase, between the sun oil and sarong (for the Bali brigade), or between the raincoat and runners (Ballybunion crowd). This is an all-weather novel.

Recently widowed Molly Hennessy is struggling with the loss of her husband, and with the haemorrhage of money required to hold on to the family home, a Georgian country house in Co Kilkenny. Her niece, Kim, has her own problems in Dublin. Suddenly ditched by her boyfriend, and still reeling from her recent unemployment, she is in freefall.

Sans job, apartment and her latest flame, she flees the city for a stay with her Aunt Molly while she decides on her next move. The story weaves through the dual backdrop of town and country, Dublin and the fictional village of Kilfinn, with ease, as the main players and supporting cast grapple with change in post-boom Ireland.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. . . in the rose garden, at any rate. Molly immerses herself in her garden to forget her worries, and uncovers a straggling walled garden on the property, which her dead husband had used as a dump. Some very old rose specimens are still alive. Barely. Molly has a project.

Meanwhile, her niece Kim begins to blossom again in the country air, far from the madding crowd in Dublin. Think shades of Town Mouse, Country Mouse, strewn with plenty of allusions to designer-label vintage clothes, alongside designer-label vintage roses.

The Rose Garden is plain vanilla chicklit, start to finish, for which it makes no apologies and takes no prisoners – it does exactly what it says on the tin. But unlike many chicklit tomes, it has an appeal for older chicks as well as for the 20-somethings. That's quite a breach to straddle, but Marita Conlon-McKenna has managed it. It's a light, appealing summer read and a gentle reminder for readers young and not-so-young, to stop and smell the roses. It's summer, after all.

Anne Cunningham

Irish Independent

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