The Girl in the Garden is Kamala Nair’s debut novel; it initially grabbed by attention because I kept seeing The Secret Garden references. I’ve never read The Secret Garden, but I saw the movie ages ago and the references intrigued me (I know, I know! That’s a terrible thing for a book blogger to say, but I swear The Secret Garden is on my TBR list!) Add that to the fact that I tend to love Indian literature, and I was immediately sold.
The story is narrated by Rakhee. Though it begins with her broken engagement and subsequent transatlantic flight back to India, most of the narrative comes from Rakhee at the age of eleven. At the time, her mother received a mysterious note from India. Her mother, already prone to strange or depressive behaviors, suddenly decides to take her to India so that they can spend the summer with family. Rakhee is extremely uneasy about the prospect: her parents’ marriage appears to be falling apart. Even though her father won’t be joining them on the trip, Rakhee is determined to fix her parents’ problems.
After an initial culture shock, Rakhee begins to settle into life in rural India. Her grandmother and her mother’s siblings (plus their families) all live under the same roof, so Rakhee spends her time getting into mischief with her cousins. Her mother also seems to be enjoying herself, but Rakhee soon beings noticing that her mother’s strange behaviors begin manifesting themselves again.
As the summer progresses, Rakhee becomes bolder and goes exploring a forbidden area behind the house. After a lengthy walk, she encounters a girl living in a beautiful, walled-off garden. The two become fast friends, but the secrets that called Rakhee’s mother back to India end up having an impact on everyone in Rakhee’s world.
I really enjoyed this book. Eleven-year-old Rakhee is a charming protagonist with a very limited worldview, so experiencing the book through her innocent eyes was a nice change of pace from other family dramas I’ve read recently. I loved reading about life in rural India, and I thought Kamala Nair did a great job of portraying the tense dynamics between everyone living under that roof in India.
But since the point of view was simplified through the eyes of a child, I also thought that the plot was predictable. I was able to guess one of the big secrets pretty quickly, and I was able to figure out the second big secret not much long after. Some plot devices also seemed a bit far fetched. That said? I really didn’t care. Nair is a great storyteller and her writing is so easy to lose yourself in. I probably would not have forgiven some of the over-the-top events had they appeared in a different novel, but I felt that they fit this particular story very well. I’m very interested to see where Nair will take her readers next.
The Girl in the Garden was released by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, on June 15, 2011.