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The Walled Garden

Reviewed by James Phillips

(Manilla Press: 2023) by Sarah Hardy

There’s a lot to be said about how nature and, in turn, gardens can help to heal. The Walled Garden is a novel that considers how both community and the idea of green space can repair even the most broken of souls. 

Set in the year after the Second World War, the novel follows Alice, or Lady Rayne as she was known to the village folk, as she mourns the loss of her husband and, by extension, the world she once knew. No, he wasn’t killed in action, but instead is affected by post-traumatic stress. Once gentle and tender, he locks himself away, and exhibits violent outbursts, often ignoring and frightening Alice. He is a traumatised shell of his former self: a stranger. To cope with her unrecognisably transformed Stephen, Alice turns to what she knows – plants. Her walled garden at the once impressive manor, though ramshackle, neglected and deprived, serves as solace to her, something she can nurture and repair. It serves as a microcosm for the community, the flowers she cultivates uniting the women, and providing a metaphor for hope – delicate, tender, but palpable. The garden and its fruits, still beautiful even after neglect, show that no matter the damage, need some tender care to flourish once more.

What’s extraordinary is how Hardy manages to intricately weave several characters into one web of suffering: the doctor and his wife are reeling from broken promises. The economising of large estates ends the meaningfulness of men returning from the fighting, as they lost their jobs. Even civilians, those who weren’t directly involved, felt the impact just as intensely. It takes the coming of a humble, but deeply ill, priest to this community on the Suffolk coast, to help pull the village together and repair the deep, seemingly irreparable and insurmountable wounds left from the War. He recognises that talking helps to heal.

Secrets fester and malign, but once freed, can transform the lost. And as the community joins together in the hope of a ‘new’ normal, the delicate tendrils of healing begin to appear.

Hardy captures the intricacies of returning to the new normal. It’s akin, although on a greater scale, to us returning to ‘normal’ after the pandemic. Unsure and slow, forever changed, and yet finding our feet again, restarting those customs that propel us forwards. The novel is a journey the reader follows avidly, navigating the turns of this village’s life, how preconceived ideas of wealth and class are volatile in the aftermath of the World War. One question is on everyone’s lips. What was it all for? Perhaps, at the end, they’ll discover that the power of having defied death leads to an appreciation of the sanctity of life.


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