Friday, September 14, 2012

Review: The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White

Tilly is a widow with a young son named Isaac. In the three years since her beloved husband's unexpected death, she has carved a wholesale nursery business out of the North Carolina forest she calls home. A British ex-pat who moved to the US for her American husband, she used her love of plants and gardening to help her work through her grief at her loss. But she still hasn't managed to work through her overwhelming guilt at invoking David's living will and thereby, in her mind, allowing him to die.

James Nealy is perhaps even more damaged than Tilly. He is a very wealthy software developer who decided to retire and sell his homes to move to North Carolina in order to participate in some trials designed to control or cure his extreme OCD. He's also hatched a plan to overcome it on his own and that plan involves Tilly. James, despite being phobic about dirt, has decided to create a garden and he fully intends to have Tilly design it for him. The fact that she does not design gardens and has turned him down doesn't deter him either. He even follows Tilly to England when she returns there to take care of her mother after an accident.

Being in England complicates things for Tilly. Her old boyfriend Sebastian, the one she loved for so long and with whom she has years of history, is back in the village and available. Her mother wants to sell the home she grew up in. Isaac is afraid Tilly will want to move back to England but he wants to stay in North Carolina, the place that has always been his home. And Tilly's best friend Rowena is around to support and encourage Tilly to be happy through humor and the love of a lifelong friend. Through all of this, James continues to urge her to take his garden design commission. In lieu of this and while she noodles through all the decisions and conflicting emotions swirling through her brain, Tilly tells James that she'll teach him how to design his own garden through bringing a walled garden on Rowena's estate back to life.

As Tilly and James work together, they have many meaningful conversations, sharing things about themselves that they've not shared with anyone else, exposing the very hearts of their damage, their reason for Tilly's guilt and the probable catalysts for James' OCD. They come to know and trust each other as they can no one else and yet they are still confused and reluctant to take a chance on each other. James believes that Tilly can do so much better than someone with his baggage and Tilly isn't sure she's ready to open her heart again. Both of these main characters are well drawn and true to life. James' OCD and the demons that eat at him are carefully and realistically portrayed. Their attraction to each other is very gradual and occasionally hard to understand, especially James' initial determination to pursue Tilly for reasons beyond just the garden commission, and the ultimate resolution in the story between Tilly, James, and Sebastian is too rushed and a little too deus ex machina to be satisfying. The narrative focus flips between Tilly and James so that the reader has the opportunity to live inside each of their heads in turn which helps to humanize them and their particular challenges. And the writing about place, both in North Carolina and in England is very visual and descriptive. This is a nice romantic, women's fiction novel with unusual characters who have some very different hurdles to overcome in order to change their lives and allow themselves happiness again.

For more information about Barbara Claypole White and the book visit her webpage. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I enjoyed this novel quite a bit and look forward to the author's next book.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful read! Thanks for being on the tour.

  3. I have a close family member with severe OCD, so I *need* to read and review this novel. This is a topic that is seldom dealt with realistically in books and film. People still think OCD is all about compulsive hand-washing and lock-checking. In reality it's much darker and more complicated. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. Great review, Kristen!

  4. Thanks for reading and reviewing, Kristen. And Stephanie, as the mother of an obsessive-compulsive, I agree. :)

  5. Thanks for reviewing, Kristen. And Stephanie, as the mother of an obsessive-compulsive, I agree. :)

  6. Hi Kristen and Barbara,

    Wow! great review Kristen, this really sent me off on a mission to find out about the author. This sounds like such a powerful and emotionally charged read, a real page-turning saga.

    Barbara, What a great premise for a story, which is almost on the point of being autobiographical, when you actually analyse the comparisons between your own story and those of the book's main protagonists. Definitely an original and authentic concept, this has to be a must for my reading list.

    Great post Kristen,


    1. Thanks, Yvonne. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on TUG!

  7. Wow! I am looking forward for this book. Thank you so much for sharing such page. Brilliant review!
    Rachel @

  8. Lovely review, I love books featuring atypical characters and I like the simplicity of the cover.


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