Every so often a book comes along that is so lyrically and beautifully written, that it changes you a bit. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley is one of those novels. Taking the reader on an unforgettable journey through England, Thailand, and France, The Orchid House will make readers question how far they’d be willing to go for true love.
World renowned pianist Julia Forrester has returned to her home in England to mourn the loss of her young son and husband in a tragic car accident. While home she visits Wharton Park, the estate in which her grandparents worked as servants in the 1930’s. While visiting, she is reintroduced to Kit Crawford, the current Lord of the manor, and long ago childhood friend. During Kit’s renovations of her grandparents cottage on the estate, he finds a diary that chronicles time spent in the Changi POW camp in Singapore during World War II. When Julia approaches her grandmother to find out whether or not the diary belonged to her grandfather, she is treated to a tale of love, betrayal, deceit, and loss that in its own way helps to begin her own healing process.
We come to find out the diary belongs to Harry Crawford, former heir to Wharton Park. Julia’s grandmother tells her his story, stuck in a world of responsibility and expectations that he never wanted to be a part of. Throw into this his wife Olivia and her unfortunate plight of being married to a man who doesn’t love her, as well as Lydia, the beguiling woman he meets in Thailand, and you’re in for the story of a lifetime.
I’m completely blown away that this is Riley’s debut novel. Her writing is so fluid and beautiful that it reads like the work of a seasoned author. She intricately and expertly weaves a plot filled with mystery and intrigue over three generations. She unveils secret after secret in perfect succession, adding to the stratagem of her storytelling. Riley’s characters are mesmerizing and captivating and are each put through their own form of hell to test what they are truly able to face. Not everyone is given happy endings, which adds a realistic feel to the story. As I said earlier, The Orchid House will definitely question how much you would be willing to give up for the love of a lifetime. Not only that, but how far and how long does the feeling of true love last in the face of a lifetime of despair?
The Orchid House’s main heroine Julia is one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Her life has been filled with many tragedies that she’s let cast shadows on the relationships she holds with her family. She’s also allowed the recent tragedies of her husband and young son’s deaths darken her life into one that she doesn’t think is worth living. She lives in a constant state of pause – not moving forward, not moving backward. It’s a state that most who have lost love ones can relate too. Not only this, but she feels guilt at the thought of moving forward and at loving and living again. Julia’s story has made me realize (more than I already did) that life is precious, a gift that can be taken away at any time. Not only has Julia’s story taught me this, but Lidia’s, Harry’s, and Olivia’s stories as well, all speak to this simple teaching.
I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for fans of the hauntingly beautiful gothic writing styles of Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Rachel Hore’s A Gathering Storm.
6 out of 5 stars
This is my thirty-first completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge
The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2012)
Paperback: 464 pages
Special thanks to Atria Press for my review copy!