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The Night Gardener

Review

The Night Gardener

Forced from Ireland by the Great Famine, siblings Molly and Kip have left home in search of a new life in England. Separated from their parents during the voyage, they now find themselves alone in a foreign land. Molly, the oldest at 14, assumes the role of caretaker, lining up servant work for her and Kip at a remote manor. On their way to the Windsor estate, a local storyteller warns them of the house and its surrounding woods. The old woman claims that since tragedy struck, no one has dared to enter the woods --- except for the Windsor family. The children continue on, not putting much stock in her words.    
 
A page-turning ghost story and mystery with the moral heft of Aesop’s fables, Jonathan Auxier’s novel resonates on many levels. 
 
As soon at Molly and Kip arrive at their destination, they sense that something evil is at work. Standing against the Windsors’ home is a menacing tree whose branches extend through the walls and into the house. Inside, the family appears pale and weary. Mistress Windsor demands that the children leave at once, but a desperate Molly uses her gift of storytelling to convince the woman to let them stay. Molly proves herself a capable cook and housekeeper, quickly winning the affection of six-year-old Penny Windsor. In spite of his crippled leg, Kip gets to work in the overgrown garden --- avoiding the sinister tree.
 
Though relieved to have food and shelter, the siblings can’t help feeling that the house is unsafe. Nightmares terrorize them each night. In the morning, Molly wipes muddy footprints from the floors. Meanwhile, the Windsors grow paler and sicker. The master and mistress take turns visiting a locked room. Penny speaks of the Night Man. One thing is certain: A dark force binds the Windsors to the house. If Molly and Kip stay, they too will be under its grip, unable to resist the pull of curiosity and greed.
 
THE NIGHT GARDENER is a tour de force of imagination and invention, grounded in the social realism of its Victorian setting. A page-turning ghost story and mystery with the moral heft of Aesop’s fables, Jonathan Auxier’s novel resonates on many levels. Legends and lies coalesce in this stirring tribute to the power of storytelling, as Molly learns to distinguish between the stories that provide hope and those that merely fuel our self-deception.  

Reviewed by Emma Kantor on May 13, 2014

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier