Book Review: The Orchid House

Three starstheorchidhouseLucinda Riley’s New York Times 2012 best seller, The Orchid House, spans seven decades and two continents, and addresses the lives of three generations of landowners and their employees and their descendants in Norfolk, England. The three generations of the Crawford family, owners of Wharton Park, are on the verge of losing the estate throughout the novel, but saving Wharton Park remains at the center of all the twisted tales and secrets revealed when Julia Forrester, the granddaughter of a gardener at the estate discovers a diary at a sale by Harry Crawford, the grandson of the owner when her grandfather worked there. The two discover the diary in the old hot house and assume that it must be Julia’s grandfather’s. Rather than opening the diary to read it herself, Julia brings it to her grandmother, Elsie, assuming she would like to keep it. But Elsie knows the diary wasn’t her husband’s. And she knew it was time to share a secret that involves both the Crawford and Forrester families.

While the story is beautifully told, I felt the author tricked the reader rather than simply revealing details about the secret in layers so the reader could willingly suspend disbelief. The central premise, that a half-Thai, half-British child, described as the spitting image of her Thai mother, would be accepted as the natural child of a British couple, spoiled the story for me. The happily-ever-after ending also resolved both the personal and financial tension of the tale too neatly, too quickly. I was surprised to find the book was categorized as historical or literary fiction rather than romance. The full story line more closely matches a classical romance than literary fiction.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, British and Irish Fiction
Length: 468 pages
Publisher: Atria Books (February 14, 2012)
Publication Date: February 14, 2012

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