Title: The Midsummer Garden
Author: Kirsty Manning
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 1st February 2018
Synopsis: From medieval France to contemporary Tasmania, two remarkable women discover their strengths, passions and loves.
Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.
1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?
2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiancé Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.
When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.
Flitting between 1487 and 2014-2016, The Midsummer Garden tells the story of two women – Artemisia and Pip, who are linked by a French Chateau, herbs, a series of ancient recipes, and some old copper pots, and both faced with different fates. Yet both feel trapped by what lies ahead of them. Artemisia longs to wed Andreas but is bound to Abbot Roald. Pip is headstrong and independent, and eager to finish her PhD and find ways to combine her passion for food with her interest in environmentalism. Yet both have people and societal expectations that would prefer to dictate how and when they do things. Whilst Artemisia’s story unfolds through her letters and recipes found in the pots Pip received, Pip is at a crossroads – she has been forced into a situation where her wedding, a trip to Tuscany and the completion of her PhD are starting to collide. People step in and make choices for her – and ignore what she has to say. Her relationship with her fiancé fractured, Pip heads overseas to follow Artemisia’s journey and find out who she is and where the pots came from.
As Pip navigates a new life without Jack, who didn’t seem to understand, care, or listen to her about what she wanted, and was so focused on his own goals, she finds a new passion in cooking, and creating food from local ingredients. As Pip discovers more about her family, the Boschaud branch, and her own passions – more than must helping the environment – she learns more about what she wants in her personal life and for her family. Her parents, sister Megs, and niece Chloé are a constant presence and driving force in Pip’s life and what she cares about. I loved the sisterly dynamic, and the bond between them. I felt that Pip’s family relationships and friendships were more powerful and meaningful to the plot, as it was these people that supported her and guided her more than Jack did throughout the majority of the novel.
It is a love story – love of land, love of food, love of family, and love of history. These aspects come together exquisitely and are quite relatable. I also loved the travels across Europe, taking us to beautiful places in a time when we’re not doing as much travel as we might usually be doing. Books have been our portals to other places and other worlds in a big way these past few years, and have given us places to be when we want to take time out of the pandemic and the news. It is a story about learning about what you want, to love what you have and love yourself, but also, to value history and the years and centuries of creating food art and using local ingredients, and has a magical feel to it that evokes a sense of being where Pip is, even if you’re not.