What an incredible little novella The Ghost Garden is in collaboration between the amazing Emma Carroll and the awesome Barrington Stoke set in the weeks leading up to the British declaration of war in 1914.
Emma Carroll brings to the dyslexia friendly publishing House her unique brand of weaving historical settings with a fantastical undertow, where the supernatural seeps into the mundane, of magical realism.
And it works.
Fran is the daughter of the Head Gardener at Longbarrow House owned by a kind rich lady with awful grandchildren who visit every summer.
But after spooky occurrences Fran is tasked with looking after the temporarily wheelchair bound grandson Leo who she thinks is a bit of a snob but it turns out that’s down to his painful shyness and awkwardness.
Mrs Walker wants Fran to distract Leo from his obsession with the news from Europe after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an obsession that upset his sister so much she broke his leg in temper, but Fran doesn’t feel up to the task until he suggests trying to find the Long Barrow after which he suspects the Estate is named.
Blending together real events with observations and artefacts of social history from the Edwardian period Emma gives us a snapshot of that heady last summer of innocence.
And that’s certainly what feels at play here, Fran opening her mind to Leo whom she once wrote off as awful, Leo changing from a playful child as he becomes obsessed with the news of war clouds over Europe, Fran feeling discombobulated both at her mother’s news and her failure to spot the signs as Leo does and the dancing between her unearthed finds as portentous and coincidental like they are upon the threshold of adolescence and the ‘age of not believing’.
Emma Carroll has an impeccable style of building tension with every page without resorting to cheap tricks. She uses the protagonist’s emotions, mood, breath and hesitations to bring us in tune with the events and happenings desperate to uncover the tangle of puzzling as much as they do.
It’s really a testament to Emma’s skill as a writer to be able to reduce and yet respect that style of narrative into 96 widely spaced pages.
The pacing and vocabulary is just right on the balance of comfort and support for the dyslexic or struggling reader without babying and just adding enough stretch to keep things interesting.
Emma does not patronise the reader, in fact she leaves us without a neatly tied up ending that may have been expected for this age group. Which is rather exciting.
We are left with a bittersweet mystery on our tongue crashing against the crushing weight of history that will leave the reader pausing every so often thereafter of the outcome of these tangled fates and whether any of the portents Fran uncovered speak as close to home as the first two did.
I’m always a huge fan of Barrington Stoke and to see a juggernaut of historical fiction with a dash of magic like Emma Carroll bring her gift to this publishing house is joyful and exciting.
The Ghost Garden will leave burning questions and maybe even evoke a desire to find out more about the First World War or the Home Front during these times and so is a perfect cross-curricular read for families and even within the secondary classroom whether in History or looking at war poetry in English.
The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll is published by Barrington Stoke
Thank you for my review copy. 💜