Hothouse Flower – Lucinda Riley

Where to start in describing this book and ‘selling’ the story to other potential readers without giving away the whole wonderfully constructed plot?

Julia has suffered an immense tragedy in her life and has returned to a cottage she owns in Norfolk, not far from Wharton Park where she spent many happy childhood hours with her grandparents Bill and Elsie who worked on the estate. Bill was the estate gardener and looked after the Hothouse where he grew, nurtured and flourished the many rare orchids. Elsie was a maid up at the ‘big house’ and remembers what the estate and house used to be like, and the family that lived there.

Kit Crawford is the new Lord Wharton and is trying to rescue the house and estate, but knows because of years of neglect from previous related owners including his father that it looks like he is going to have to sell it with the proviso he can move into the old gardener’s cottage. When he starts to redevelopment the cottage, a diary is found and the circle of Julia’s life and Kits suddenly collide and there is another story to discover from the Second World War As readers we learn about how the past and the future of Kit, Julia and inevitably Wharton Park are inextricably linked forever.

This is a strong book, with a fairly complex plot and a number of characters but Lucinda Riley weaves a tale that makes it easy to follow and completely absorbing. I found myself wanting to read it any spare minute I had, just to get to the next bit. It effectively jumps from the present day back to the events of the war and afterwards. Additionally scattered throughout the book is the thoughts and reflections of Julia. This is all done with ease and very obvious to the reader without having to look back through pages. The locations are dealt with from Norfolk, Thailand, and France where the scenery and atmosphere is described with evocative details that you can feel the heat of Thailand and smell the flowers as much as the wind that whistles through the cottage in Norfolk where Julia seeks solace.

Other reviews have mentioned Kate Morton’s novels, and there is no doubt in my opinion that this is as good as any Morton novel. I suspect that this novel will be successful because of the sudden resurgent interest (Downton Abbey & Upstairs Downstairs through the medium of television) in all things of the past. In the big house and in the homes, the characters from the higher echelons of society as well as the servants who look after them. The key to these books and I know is something I find most attractive in novels is the present of the concept of the ‘big house’. To me it advocates what has been, what could have been if society had not been changed and where everything was structured and in its own order apart from perhaps in this book – love? The ‘big house’ is a character within its own right and I fall in love with the fact that when reading such books, I can transport myself to being lady of the house floating from one room to another or the maid cleaning one room and then another. Hothouse Flower has all these ideas and concepts by the page.

A hot read for 2011.

I will be following this book with interest now it is part of the Richard and Judy Spring Reads collection. I think it will be very popular and I was surprised that when I submitted my review onto Amazon that it had only 10 reviews before mine? I bet that changes in the next few weeks.

Check out her website with some interesting background on the book and also the title of her second novel! The Girl on the Cliff which has yet to make it to Amazon as a pre order!