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Book Review: The Orchid House

Posted by gck Wednesday, February 1, 2012


The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Historical Fiction
Rating: ** (out of 5)
Recommended for: fans of Kate Morton, people who like books about multi-generational family secrets
Received uncorrected e-galley through NetGalley.

Back-cover summary:
A debut spanning from the 1930s to the present day, from a magnificent estate in war-torn England to Thailand, this sweeping novel tells the tale of a concert pianist, Julia, and the prominent Crawford family whose shocking secrets are revealed, leading to devastating consequences for generations to come.

As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the great house where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to the tranquility of the estate. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation.

When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park. Their search takes them back to the 1930s when a former heir to Wharton Park married his young society bride on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt on generations to come.

My review:
I ended up liking the characters and plot of this book more than I expected when I started reading. The book jumps back and forth between the present and recollections from two generations back and deftly spins a story that reveals hidden connections, secrets, and parallels between many of the characters. There are repeated themes of dealing with the grief of losing loved ones, the conflict between love and duty, and the strong bond of family. The settings are lovely, featuring an English country estate and exotic, lush Thailand. All of the story lines wrap up nicely, maybe a little too nicely, but it left me with a feeling of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, the weak writing takes away significantly from this book’s potential. The worst part is the dialogue, and the characters talk too much for this to be overlooked. There’s a lot of uninspired dialogue. There’s an extreme overuse of ellipses. But worst of all is when the author is trying to make the characters sound a certain way, and that character’s dialogue alternates between normal English and something unrealistic and exaggerated. For example, the two French-speaking characters demonstrate their French-ness by constantly adding “n’est-ce pas?” to their sentences. And Lidia, a formerly wealthy Thai woman supposedly educated by the British, mostly speaks in the stereotypical Asian way (“I get pay rise too, so my family very happy.”) but occasionally lapses into regular English, saying things like “Now I must leave you, as I have new guests arriving very soon.” For a character who typically can’t remember to put verbs in sentences, a sentence like “I would have to ask Madame” shows pretty good mastery of verb conjugation. It’s also hard to deal with Kit, a contemporary character, saying things like, “Whilst I concoct the pasta sauce, I shall pour our my troubles to you.”

As a storyteller, Lucinda Riley has potential. Hopefully with her future books, she can overcome the challenge of writing convincing dialogue. I was ultimately glad I didn’t give up on this book, but there were many points while reading where it was tempting to do so.

1 Responses to Book Review: The Orchid House

  1. Hmm...I have this one from NetGalley too but have not read it yet. I really like the sound of the story so hopefully I can overcome the other difficulties you mention.


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