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Novel set in Surrey

8th December 2021

The Water Garden by Louise Soraya Black, novel set in Surrey.

Novel set in Surrey

Black’s second novel The Water Garden is a multi-layered tale, shifting forward and back in time and following several generations of the same family.  We begin in 2010 and meet Sarah who has given up her London career to give her children a better childhood in leafy Surrey.  Her husband works long hours and Sarah is left largely to cope alone with two boisterous young boys and a crumbling house.  Her sole pleasure comes from roaming through the woods around her home and there she discovers a lake and a memorial bench for a boy who drowned in mysterious circumstances.  It is also there that Sarah meets Finn, a troubled teenage boy, and finds herself drawn into an uncomfortable but powerful relationship with him.

The narration then shifts back in time to the wartime romance of Sarah’s grandparents, Maggie and Jim, a romance that quickly fades after their hasty marriage, when Maggie realises that she doesn’t meet Jim’s family’s expectations.  Maggie, like her granddaughter years later, is left struggling with the childcare and a largely absent husband.  There is no hope for any escape as it is abundantly clear that Jim believes “a woman’s place is in the home.”  Soon Jim begins an affair with an Italian barmaid, Flavia, a relationship that has lasting repercussions and necessitates the keeping of family secrets.

The Water Garden isn’t always a comfortable read – there is something distinctly disturbing about many of the relationships.  Black’s female characters are well crafted and her exploration of the themes of motherhood and women’s roles generally give the reader pause for thought as she seems to suggest that, in many ways, a mother’s role has changed little over the past seventy odd years.  The male characters, however, are somewhat sketchily drawn and, on the whole, so self-centred, selfish and weak that it’s hard not to become irritated with the way the women accommodate and accept them.

This is not an action-packed tale but this is compensated for by the setting.  Black’s prose style is wonderful and her descriptions of the Surrey countryside and the natural world generally are masterful.  I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of the lake, beautiful and tranquil on the surface but hiding in its depths the rusting machinery and derelict remains of the quarry that was flooded to create it.  The reader is never allowed to simply enjoy the beauties of nature conveyed in Black’s wonderful descriptions; we are constantly reminded of the dangers lurking beneath. Much like the multi-generational family in The Water Garden – superficially respectable, decent and good, but corrupted within by secrets and deceit.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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