In The Apothecary’s Garden, published by Harper Collins, Jeanette Lynes transports readers back in time to 1860 and the exotic locale of Eastern Ontario’s Belleville on the shores of the Bay of Quinte. While the locale may be somewhat prosaic, Lynes has created something magical in this normally staid part of the world.
Lavender Fitch is struggling. Her father’s death has left her in precarious financial circumstances. In spite of having been a successful apothecary it turns out he was just as unsuccessful in managing his finances. All he left his daughter were debts and a house badly in need of repairs.
However, Lavender is nothing if not resourceful and determined. She has another small legacy, the garden her late mother cultivated. She can eke out pennies selling cut flowers at the train station where an impromptu market sets up with each arrival. The train she sets out to meet on the day the story opens brings more than a little bit of cash into her life – it brings new people and experiences.
Living in isolation as she does, with only Arlo Snook, the orphan boy given shelter by her father as a companion, Lavender is usually the last one to know any news. Sure she knows the Prince of Wales is coming to town, who doesn’t, but the fact a celebrated medium, Allegra Trout is also imminently expected in Bellville had completely escaped her notice.
While the medium may have the whole town in a tizzy, her companion, Robert Trout, captures Lavender’s attention. Perhaps it’s because he buys all her flowers at the train station on the day of his arrival, or perhaps she recognizes in him something of a a kindred spirit; another lost soul.
Lynes has created a magical story. On the surface it might seem deceptively straight forward, but there’s an underlay of wonder that makes it a delight. It seems like each sentence is infused with something beyond the basic meanings of the words they contain and has the ability to reach past the reasoning self to enter your heart.
The story is a delight as we follow Lavender through her days. We rejoice in her small victories and are stung by her setbacks and disappointments. Lynes has done an incredible job of making us genuinely care for her protagonist. While Lavender is our main focus, Lynes has also made sure all of the characters are equally interesting.
From Robert and Allegra to Arlo Snook we watch each characters’ development. In the case of the latter we see him grow from the slightly disabled orphan who is dependant on Lavender into a young man shouldering responsibilities.
With Robert and Allegra it’s more a matter of peeling away the mystery that surrounds them and their profession to reveal the people behind the masks of mysticism. While Lavender’s relationship with Allegra is initially rocky, and Allegra will always be something of a Diva, they do reach an understanding in the end.
Peppered throughout the book are scatterings of flower wisdom and magic. As befits the daughter of an apothecary Lavender knows the medicinal and healing properties of the plants she grows in her garden. Throughout the novel we’re gifted with her knowledge; seeds of wisdom that provide comfort.
In The Apothecary’s Garden Jeanette Lynes has crafted a wonderfully lyric story where the words flow like music. It is poetry for the mind and the heart – a tonic for souls bruised by the difficulties of our present day.