When Books Come Together: Helen Humphreys, Virginia Woolf, and Two Lost Gardens

1302575So far, my reading this year has been pretty scattered. I can’t really focus on any one book, and there’ve been non-bookish things that have kept me busy. But this week, I did read (and finish) one book, and not only did I like it, it also tied so many things together for me that I am almost more excited about that than the book itself.

It started with Li Ang’s The Lost Garden, which has just been published by Columbia University Press. I read the beginning and then suddenly noticed a book with the same title sitting on one of my shelves and started reading that one. That was Helen Humphreys’ The Lost Garden, a quiet book about love, loss, and longing.

It takes place in early 1941, when Gwen Davis, a gardener by profession, volunteers for the Women’s Land Army and leaves London to grow potatoes and other vegetables as part of the war effort. While she is cultivating the grounds of a long-neglected estate, she finds a secret garden and is trying to decipher its meaning based on her knowledge of the flowers that are planted in it. Not only does the book talk about love and loss quite beautifully, but it is also a love letter of sorts to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.59716

And wouldn’t you know it… I have To the Lighthouse sitting on my nightstand right now. I’m reading it very slowly as part of Heavenali’s Woolfalong, and I am loving it even more now than I did when I read it in high school, when I had a great teacher who suggested we read Woolf during our class trip to England. (My very first Woolfalong of sorts.) Incidentally, during this trip, we toured an estate with extensive gardens, and while they were the complete opposite of “long neglected,” I can completely picture Humphreys’ lost garden tucked away somewhere on that estate. So I am full of happy memories and what-if thoughts at the moment.

26263021On top of all this, while reading Humphreys’ book, there was something in the way of the writing that rang a bell in the back of my mind, way back. Something felt familiar, although I wasn’t quite sure what it was. When I finally read that Humphreys now resides in Ontario, I had an inkling of where I could look. And sure enough, a while back, Naomi reviewed Helen Humphreys’ Coventry. Naomi echoes some of the same sentiments I felt while reading The Lost Garden, so maybe once I know what the deal is with Li Ang’s Lost Garden, when I am done with To the Lighthouse, and when I feel the need for another quiet book, I can pull out Humphreys’ Afterimage or The Evening Chorus. For now, though, I am simply happy that so many small bookish things have come together for me this week.

Do you have any stories about bookish coincidences that somehow suddenly all made sense?



    • Woolf is tricky. I enjoy her writing, but I need to concentrate on it. So I had to put it aside about halfway into it because I didn’t have enough time to really focus on the book. Another one that’s currently on the “started but not finished” pile… Sigh!

  1. This is a wonderful thing, TJ, I love these chain reactions, great books leading to more great books. I’ve had it happen to me, though not as extensive. I was reading The Observations by Jane Harris and at the back of the book I noticed the name Rose Tremain, whose book, The Road Home, I had on my nightstand. I read them both one after the other and loved them, The Observations slightly more I think because it was also funny. I gave both 5 stars on Goodreads. 😉

  2. I like that word Woolfalong. I have read Mrs. Dalloway but I think not To the Lighthouse. I find her slow going, but still fascinating to try to figure out what’s going on in her head. I have not read or heard of Helen Humphreys yet, hmm. thanks!

  3. You’ve just made me want to drop what I am reading and pick up Humphreys again. The one I have on my shelf right now is ‘The Frozen Thames’, a story for each of the 43 times that the Thames has been known to freeze. I have also heard nothing but good things about her newest, The Evening Chorus. Sigh.
    I am reading Mrs. Dalloway the same way you are reading To the Lighthouse – slowly. I think I am at a slight disadvantage, though, having never read it before (or anything else by her). I find myself getting lost in the writing and having to go back and figure out what’s going on. (In an enjoyable way, although it is time-consuming.)
    I love how you made all these connections. And, thanks for the link! 🙂

    • I saw the Frozen Thames at the library, and was tempted. But I’m supposed to read my own books… I was so glad when I found the Humphreys book on your blog. I just suddenly thought that I had read someone mentioning the same feelings. Thankfully, I didn’t have to search too long. 🙂 And yes, with Woolf, I just kind of try to float along. It is slow going.

      • I’m glad to hear it’s not just me who has to take it slow.
        And, I’m flattered that you thought to check my blog for Humphreys. It makes me feel like my blog might even be useful to someone. 🙂

  4. I really like the way you’ve highlighted the connections between these books – it’s interesting to see how one book can lead to another and spark off other ideas and links here and there. To the Lighthouse is fairly near the top of my ‘imminent reads’ pile on the shelf, so I’m hoping to start it within the next few weeks. It will be a reread for me as well.

    • I always wish I had more talent and time for gardening, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the story. And since things are busy at the moment, it was the perffect time for a quiet novel. I hope you will check it out.

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