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The Lavender Garden by Lucinda RileyTitle: The Lavender Garden
Author: Lucinda Riley
Narrator: Gerri Halligan
Audiobook Length: 15 hours
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Recorded Books; Atria Books
Release Date: 11 June 2003
Bottom Line: Much better in print but that’s not saying much

La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions . . .

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the château itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.”

Thoughts: Gerri Halligan has a lovely speaking voice and is a pleasant narrator. The trouble with the audiobook version lies in her performance of the various characters. She struggles differentiating between the various female characters, and her male character voices are even worse. As she attempts to change accents, the end result is something grating to the ears. Also, her performance is too overt. She is too obvious in certain characteristics of the characters to make the truth anything but a surprise. This is made worse by the fact that the story already suffers from predictability. Having switched to the print version halfway through the story, all of the obvious clues noticeably disappear, confirming that Ms. Halligan used her performance to give away too many secrets way too early. It is a rocky and disappointing audio performance.

Just as The Lavender Garden, as performed by Ms. Halligan, is not the best example of an audiobook experience, the print story has similar faults. As mentioned earlier, it too experiences problems with the obvious path of the story. Emilie’s modern-day discoveries are anything but a surprise, and the World War II scenes are only marginally better. In addition, Ms. Riley poorly executes the time period narrative shifts, making them too abrupt. The two sections do not flow together well at all, disrupting the pacing and the tonality of the overall story.

The characters are another example of poor execution. Emilie is annoying. For a professional living on her own in a large city, she is remarkably naïve with a lack of business savvy that is appalling. Her willingness to let someone else handle her family’s estate is similarly disturbing and does not coincide with a woman who just wants to go back to her independent lifestyle. While Emilie does show personal growth throughout the story, it comes too late to be anything but a convenient plot device. While Emilie will frustrate readers, Constance leaves readers flat. Her story evokes none of the emotions Ms. Riley intends, and it is disinterest with which a reader follows her path from British soil to the south of France. Her responses to certain crises are irrational, hysterical over small scenes and utterly void of emotion over others which should have her raging. Just like Emilie, she capitulates too quickly to others’ suggestions and fails to confirm her independent status that should naturally fit someone so capable.

The saving grace for The Lavender Garden is the physical descriptions. This is due more to the picturesque locale of southern France than Ms. Riley’s writing. A historical chateau in the vibrant lushness of the French countryside is going to awe any reader and establish a certain vibe. Unfortunately, Ms. Riley uses the story’s settings to provide further clues to the plot’s resolution, as the disparateness of Emilie’s family chateau versus Sebastian’s ancestral home are too obvious to be anything other than another plot device. The vibe one gets from each location is a deliberate element of the story that drives Emilie towards an inevitable path that leaves no surprises.

The Lavender Garden is truly disappointing regardless of medium used to experience it. One wants the story to be more mysterious and twisty than it is, just as one wants the two heroines to be stronger and more self-sufficient than they actually are. There is an inherent charm about the la Martinières’ home that soothes some of the rougher edges but is not enough to overcome the story’s weaknesses. The Lavender Garden is pleasant enough but ultimately unsatisfactory.

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