Thursday Review: The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

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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.

Lucinda Riley skillfully sweeps her readers between the magical world of Wharton Park and Thailand during World War II with irresistible and atmospheric storytelling. Filled with twists and turns, passions and lies, and ultimately redemption, The Orchid House is a romantic, poignant novel that became an instant bestseller in the UK and Germany.

I literally just finished the last page of this book, making this the freshest book review I’ve ever written. The book was interesting, had a lot of historical goodness going for it, and had a plot that wove such a complex tapestry that no summary could do it justice.

But it did have some problems. I love stories that have parallel stories going from the past to the present, so the two stories weren’t the problem. The problem was the person telling the story could not have possibly known the details she gave. The book was third person limited, yet the story in the past was being told to the protagonist orally. See the problem? I don’t mind that the story wasn’t told as dialogue, but the only person we should have been able to see internal thoughts from is Elsie. Elsie could not, no matter how well described the events may have been to her, have known what was happening in Olivia’s head, Harry’s head, or Bill’s head. The only person whose innermost thoughts she could know are her own. And she was the tiniest player in the back story so oddly we were only third person limited in her head twice in the whole book. As a writer and as an English teacher I just couldn’t get over the framing of the story. It’s a nitpick and it’s my issue but it kept pulling me right out of the story.

However, both of the stories featured complex, wounded characters and the author did a fantastic job managing a large diverse cast of characters all of whom had entirely different motivations and all managed to sound completely different. Every character was fully developed and they were all interesting. Even the two characters I absolutely loathed (I was supposed to, that’s not a knock on the author) had complex reasons for doing the things I hated and were three dimensional.

The descriptions were gorgeous, but they needed to be integrated into the dialogue more because the story had a lot of floating head syndrome where the characters just spoke to one another for a page or more with no details to ground you into where they were or what they were doing. But then there would be amazing paragraphs of description that were so well done that I got a crystal clear picture only to move on to the next scene with dialogue that was groundless. Seriously though, gorgeous imagery. Loved it.

The plot was intense and kept me reading though it did spin out of control a bit near the end with an event that I kind of hated with a fiery passion. But what came after that event was interesting and wrapped everything up in almost a nice neat bow. There were some mysteries left unsolved, which is good, stories that wrap absolutely everything up feel artificial.

Overall a decent read if you can ignore the nitpicks.

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