Like the plough mud that ribbons through salt marshes the Carolinas tend to seep into your pours, invade your nostrils and stick to your shoes. Visiting lush gardens, walking shell-lined beaches, feasting on crab cakes, riding ferries and tasting salt air is wonderful, but I have a deep need and desire to know this place on a deeper level. To do so I am compelled to read Carolina authors who have lived these rhythms and know them best.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit Wilmington, North Carolina you simply must experience Two Sisters Bookery. Located at the Cotton Exchange, close to the Cape Fear's Riverwalk, a tinkling bell gently announces your arrival as you step into a world of magic. Books. Real books. Ink and paper books. Books that give off the aroma of knowledge and wonder. Books that make me weep, they are so beautiful. Carroll and I traveled in Daris the Yaris through rainy roadways to experience Two Sisters Bookery during her stay back in February. There, we stretched our time and imagination in this place of old wood and bright colors. Eventually, we ended up at the register - Carroll's arms filled with gifts for her niece while my own were achingly empty. Though on the hunt for a good book, nothing had yet seemed right ... until we arrived at the counter. There, to the left of the register was a shelf laden with new books and books by local authors, many bestickered with "Autographed Copy" in hopes of grabbing attention.
There it was - my first book. It was not beachy as I'd been craving but was instead gardeny. The title and cover begged my attention. "The Unfinished Garden," by Barbara Claypole White - an Englishwoman now living in North Carolina. England? North Carolina? Gardening? Perfect. After skimming the back cover I snatched it off the shelf and offered the owner payment. I'm not a polished book reviewer at all but simply must tell you about this book and how it made me feel. Bear with me.
The Unfinished Garden
Barbara Claypole White
"The Unfinished Garden" is about two fractured people - Tilly and James, and takes place amid gardens in both North Carolina and England. Supported by a fascinating cast of fringe characters we learn Tilly is broken by loss and James is broken by OCD. While Tilly is a fascinating character in and of herself I was completely riveted - spellbound - by James. OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, has affected the lives of several of my friends. While I've been understanding and nod my head at all the proper times there is no way in hell I can ever truly "get" what it's like to have OCD. Barbara Claypole White paints a vivid picture of what James goes through on a daily basis as he struggles with his wayward brain. Page after page revealed what my friends surely must go through daily and for the rest of their lives. The mental image of how James' brain makes him walk through a field dotted with dandelions is one that will stay with you forever, along with his explanation to Tilly's son Isaac as she overhears.
Mind, I also developed a huge crush on James so that may play some part in my love of this book. How I can have a crush on a book's character attests to the skill of Ms. Claypole White's writing. The dance Tilly and James play as their relationship grows is reminiscent of another favorite of mine long ago, "The Shell Seekers." I couldn't put this book down, and even dreamed about it. It's a story that changes the colors, the sounds, the smells of your world for a while. Those of you with a deep abiding love to read must curl up with this book on a rainy afternoon, a favored quilt over your lap. Rich storytelling, lavish scenery and a storyline that grabs from the beginning, The Unfinished Garden shares the story of two broken people who find each other and come together despite the odds. A simple plot, an old plot, but a great plot done extremely well.
Finishing a good book makes my teeth hurt. It's simply over. Just like that. It's plain painful. For weeks James and Tilly just wouldn't leave me alone. They were always nearby like my shadow in late afternoon. So I did what any sane person would do - I wrote to Barbara Claypole White. Yes, I did. I went to her website and spilled my guts - told her how much I loved her book and that I wasn't ready for James and Tilly to go away. I want more. I want to know what happens to them. Incredibly, she wrote me back. After several volleys of e-mails, (I am very grateful she doesn't think me a stalker,) I think she understood just how touched I was by her book. Ms. Claypole White shared with me that James and Tilly won't leave her alone either and she hopes to write a sequel. As an aside I discovered that like me, Barbara Claypole White works to a playlist. Yes! Other people DO that! If you are so inclined please visit her website and read REAL reviews by actual writers and discover "The Unfinished Garden" for yourself. Check out her playlist, too.
Oh, and she shared with me the song that may be inspiration for the sequel ... but my lips are sealed...
My stack of books. Each captivating and worthy of their own post.
I'm buying books at a fevered pace. You've been warned...