Friday, 13 July 2001
Ann Barker: His Lordship's Gardener (1999)
Review number: 871
It is clear from the outset that this historical novel is not intended to be taken seriously. The Earl of Lyddington returns from abroad to find that in his absence his sister has moved the village (where he hoped to have a drink in the pub before heading for home) as part of the improvements being carried out to the estate. Moving the village which obscured a fashionable view is a not unheard of action for the English aristocracy at this time; it is the way that the Earl mislays the village which is funny.
The story is a romance, complicated by the fact that the woman the Earl falls for, the daughter of the man redesigning his garden, is disguised as a man because women are not allowed to work. There is a wonderful moment when Lyddington, not yet knowing the truth but finding himself attracted to the friend he knows as Frank, summons the best looking of his servants to make sure he isn't starting to fancy men. The big flaw in the novel is that the moment he discovers the truth is not narrated, which means that the story jumps rather abruptly, which is disconcerting.
In the main, His Lordship's Gardener is an enjoyable, tongue in cheek version of one of the sillier literary genres, the Regency romance, rather in the manner of Elizabeth Peters.