Friday 26 March 2021

The Gardener's Wife by Jane Allison Blog Tour

 I have to admit, historical fiction isn't a genre that I generally reach for but over the years it is a type of book that has really grown on me (although I do have to be in the right mood to delve in).

Recently I was asked if I'd like to join the blog tour for a new historical romance set during WW1. Once I'd read the blurb, there was no way I could say no.

The Gardener's Wife by Jan Allison, who is a debut novelist at the young age of 72, is a beautiful and gentle love story that you cannot help but become fond of.


Emma Holt has been happily married for many years to the gardener of the local Quaker school. Headmaster Philip Manners, on the other hand, has been unhappily married to the Bishop’s daughter for just as long.

When Philip finds Emma in the school library, he can’t help but be intrigued by her. Emma, dealing with her two eldest sons going off to war, is overloading herself with work to keep her mind focused. Philip, meanwhile, is trying to understand how his students could enlist when he teaches them pacifism, but is also struggling with his conscience: is he really falling in love with another man’s wife?

When conscription finally arrives and all the eligible men are called up, Emma and Philip find themselves unavoidably tangled up in each other’s lives more and more. Emma is pushed to her limits with worrying about her sons and trying to juggle all her new duties, while Philip, ineligible to be called up, can’t help but rush to comfort her when the worst happens overseas.

With Emma torn between the loyalty she has for her husband and the passion she’s been missing for so long with Philip, will she fight to hold on to Philip or stand back when events conspire to rip them apart for good?

I found this to be quite a quick and easy read.

The storyline itself is simple to follow and I'll admit that I devoured the story, reading it all in just one sitting. 

Below is an extract to wet your appetite:

Philip Manners leaned on his walking stick as he stood by the fingerpost, looking down the hill towards Low Shadworth. The evening sun was dipping behind the ridge, and the village below him seemed to glow a deep, satisfying red. The colour of poppies, he thought. He made a tall and handsome figure as he stood, supported by his stick. An observer might note his studious face, firm chin, and blue eyes. The stick suggested, perhaps, an accident of youth and caused his shoulders to stoop as he leaned on it. His hair, greying at the temples, gave him an older, distinguished air though he was still in his forties. His brow was inscribed with lines etched by the huge responsibility he felt towards his position as head of the school opposite him. The tenderness of his blue eyes and mouth that seemed as if it would often be smiling gave balance to his careworn face.  

His school stood four-square beside the main highway, proclaiming itself an imposing establishment, a renowned Quaker school for the children of those whose beliefs drew them to its title and who were pleased to give their offspring the benefits of its excellent reputation. The school lay in the village of Shadworth, which was divided into two quite distinctive halves. The one, High Shadworth, stretched uphill in a rambling fashion until it reached a summit of scattered stone houses, a public house, and a Methodist chapel. Low Shadworth, on the other hand, which Philip was admiring from his vantage point, began right by the ancient fingerpost. From there, the traveller may gently amble down a leafy lane to a collection of brick-built terraced dwellings. Opposite them, the visitor would find an old school made of grey stone proclaiming itself Infant and Junior Village School, which served the children of Shadworth who came here from the terraces and outlying farms to learn their letters and their times tables. Behind Philip lay his office, his responsibilities, his staff of highly intelligent teachers, many of whom he had himself appointed. And in his home within the school grounds was Harriet, his wife, to whom he had been married for a number of years. The war, which they’d said would be over by Christmas, was still raging across the English Channel, and boys he had himself educated and shown a better way, the Quaker way, had nevertheless left early to throw themselves into battle, glorying in the challenge to their manhood. 

He regretted this deeply, for it denied everything he had tried to teach them about the paths of peace. His thoughts turned unasked, as they often did, to Emma Holt, the wife of his school’s gardener. He knew she had sons who had already joined up, and Philip wondered how she was feeling. Harriet could have no concept of what it would be like to be a mother in that situation—childless Mrs Manners. He knew what people said: “What a shame she hasn’t given the head his own children.” No, Harriet would never feel that heart-rending agony of fearing for one’s own child. Yet, childless as Philip was, he himself felt a fatherly fear for every one of his students that had left for the front. He couldn’t remember now a time when he hadn’t admired Emma Holt and her fortitude against all the odds. Her indomitable energy in answering the practical needs of his school had drawn his attention to her soon after his arrival in Shadworth, back in 1904. He smiled as he remembered the many times he had remonstrated with her for taking too much on: “Mrs Holt, you surely can’t be carrying such a load of washing back to Holt House?” “Mrs Holt, have you spent all day helping Cook out with the catering for the staff party?” 

Of course, it never made any difference. She never took a scrap of notice. And now, with the passage of years, he found himself thinking of her every day. She had been so resolute in ensuring her sons and her youngest child, Florence, had an education and she had confided in him how important it was for them to rise above the mere rote learning offered by the local school. Philip’s first acquaintance with Emma had come when he’d found her in his school library, searching for a book on the rudiments of the English language, whereby she could teach her children herself how to write correctly and convincingly. He had been struck by her beautiful, shy, wide-eyed glance at him as she’d apologised for her presence. He had assured her she might use the library any time she needed in between all her other commitments. Her astonishment that he had bothered himself to speak to her had been written all over her face. Nevertheless, he hadn’t been able to help enjoying her embarrassment as the flush had risen up in her cheeks when she’d thanked him and hurried away. The many more times they’d met in the library had soon convinced him she was a woman of indomitable spirit, courage, and bright intelligence. Now, standing by the fingerpost, he thought with pleasure of the bond between them, forged first in those library visits and strengthened through the many occasions in which she came to discuss the needs of his staff. 

A bond that, even with the passing of the years, would not be denied. He was convinced she felt it too, though nothing had ever passed their lips to confirm it. However, he also felt a profound sense of the danger of their situation. He felt proud he had helped her to recognise her value and her capacity for scholarship outside the daily routines she had to fulfil. But he knew he must repress all the other emotions he felt for her—she, a wife and mother; he, a married man in a position of trust. But, oh, how different it could have been if we were both free.

As a debut novel, I was really impressed.

A well written piece of literature that really took me back in time. The setting and language used depicted the era perfectly and of course the loving relationship that built across the story was one that was tender and heartfelt.

If you like what you've read, you can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon now.

And you can of course have a look at the rest of the blog tour which is outlined here:


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