Book Review: The Rose Garden

“She touched a fingertip to a pink petal and the petal dropped away, showing a papery layer of beige beneath. ‘It’s a pretty illusion but it’s not really alive.’ Mrs Finch began to cry.”

The Rose Garden, by Tracy Rees

I’m delighted to join the Blog Tour of “The Rose Garden” by Tracy Rees. Many thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours, the publishers Pan Macmillan, and of course the author for organising the tour and gifting me a copy of the book.

“The Rose Garden” by Tracy Rees is set in London in 1895, and life for women is difficult, whatever their station in society. The story is told from the perspectives of a group of very different women, but all with a determination to make the most of their lives.

Wealthy and independent Hampstead-resident Olive Westallen seemingly has a perfect life – she’s well off, part of a highly respected family, and although unmarried, has parents who love and support her. But Olive not only wants to improve the world she sees around her, she longs to be a mother, and is determined to take a course of action that will mark her out among the conventional, male-dominated society she inhabits.

When 12-year-old Otty Finch’s family is suddenly uprooted from their lives in Durham to move to Hampstead, she takes at face value the need to relocate for her father’s job and is excited to get to know her new neighbourhood. But things aren’t quite right – what is the nature of her mother’s mysterious illness that keeps her to her room? Could that be the real cause of their sudden departure from the life they knew?

When Mabs Daley is offered a position as companion to Otty’s mother, she jumps at the chance to leave the dangerous life she’s had working as a labourer at the canals (which even that she can only do disguised as a boy). But as she struggles to get to know her mistress, and the secrets of the Finch family start to mount up, it becomes clear that things are very wrong indeed and her life in the household might not be the salvation she thought it would be.

I devoured this book in just a couple of sittings, I enjoyed it so much! I loved all the wonderful, strong female characters and the way they supported one another through their friendships. The novel is a great portrayal of the difficulties faced by women, whether they’re from high society or the poorest of slums. The seemingly confident Olive is not immune to jealousy of women who seem to have men falling at their feet, despite her intelligence and independence. Privileged and sheltered Otty is still at the whim of her father’s views about women’s education. And what hope does Mabs have, growing up in a slum with six younger siblings depending on her?

I’m also used to reading about hysterical women in fiction, forever at the mercy of their nerves and making themselves a general pain to those around them. But refreshingly in this case, that woman is given a voice, and we learn that things might not be a straight-forward as they seem.

This is a beautiful and uplifting story about female friendship, and I’d recommend it to all fans of historical fiction. There were also some very interesting side characters who I think could be the subjects of books in their own right – fingers crossed Tracy Rees might re-visit them in future novels!

Pages: 422
Published: 2nd September 2021
Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈🐈/5

About the author

Tracy Rees was the first winner of the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition.

She has also won the Love Stories Best Historical Read award and been shortlisted for the RNA Epic Romantic Novel of the Year.

A Cambridge graduate, Tracy had a successful career in non-fiction publishing before retraining for a second career practising and teaching humanistic counselling.

She has also been a waitress, bartender, shop assistant, estate agent, classroom assistant and workshop leader.

Tracy divides her time between the Gower Peninsula of South Wales and London.

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