Reviewer Frances Roberts-Reilly: Frances is a poet, writer and filmmaker. She has published numerous short stories, articles and poems and she has been a guest author on CBC Radio. She began writing seriously in 1972, whilst working at BBC television in London, England. After making award-winning documentaries, she earned an Honors degree in English Literature at the University of Toronto. Her Green Man chapbook is published by Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). Frances is author of KPMG’s Corporate Responsibility Report 2008.You can find out more about Frances and her portfolio at WordPress
Author: Jane Gillette
Publisher: ORO Editions
The allure of the garden.
The Most Beautiful Gardens Ever Written: A Guide is an intimate and lyrical look at gardens in literature. The writer invites readers into ten beautiful gardens - fictional gardens of English, Asian, European, Australian, and American writers.
The book is aesthetically designed providing ample white space as a screen for the reader’s imagination, as well as containing color plates with illustrations of gardens from antiquity to modernity.
Each essay is lovingly crafted, handling the vivid descriptions and artistic intentions of meanings by writers’ in using the garden as metaphor and symbol. This “green world” extends the readers imagination into familiar as well as unknown terrain. While a closer read reveals nuances usually passed over by the untutored eye. Yet, this is not your typical garden club guided tour.
For example, when visiting Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji garden we discover arbors, exotic trees and pavilions, completed by a mandala signifying ritual, religion and polygamy, serving as a legacy of Genji’s eroticism. A justification for enlightenment, writes Gillette.
Gillette prunes the theme of mastering love within an idealized landscape, symbolizing the theme of courtly love by writer Francesco Collona. She proves adept in identifying irony.
The question, how does a garden of self-isolation work against life and love? Skillfully written as Gillette maps out through author Laurence Sterne’s character, Uncle Toby in Tristian Shandy the reason language proves inadequate in bridging the divide. Digging further into theme of free will in the garden of desire in Goethe’s Elective Affinities, Gillette urges, “Gaining a foothold of superiority is difficult.”
Gillette visits a counter spin to the theme of the garden of childhood paradise as it appears in Lewis Carroll’s Alice novels. Here human-like flowers turn spiteful and gardens laughed into irrelevance. A further irony, which is fertile ground for Gillette.
Once again the childhood Garden of Eden reasserts, this time transplanted into the 20th Century. However, nihilistic parenting overshadows. Gillette calls on Dr. Freud to spare the reader disappointment. As the story unfolds, the question is asked: Does human nature find its true home in the wilderness or in a garden?
Ridicule is rightly the literary territory of French writer, Flaubert, earning a place in this book with his over-the-top catalogue of gardens and gardening tools. Gillette deftly and humorously weeds out humanity’s display of stupidity towards one-upping the Joneses in all matters of gardening.
Not to get too sentimental, Gillette concludes her ten essays with Nabokov’s appropriation of the garden as he turns it into a series of jokes, replete with references to many gardens in art and literature. A wry writer is he.
Of course, hanging behind all these fictional gardens is the soul image of the Garden of Eden where Gillette reminds the Fall that took place. These carefully written essays have selected novels that draw out and explain how authors worldwide have had a field day exploiting human foibles and imperfections, which is an enjoyable and thought provoking read.
Gillette makes it all accessible to anyone who savors reading. The book’s questioning stance may lead one to read further into the writers it includes. As well, this book is visually appealing to all tactile readers of books. You may even want to take a good sniff!
After all is said and done, the author hopes her essays inspire us with happy memories in celebrating our own gardens.