65 pages • 2 hours readJacqueline Winspear
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The recurring motif of flowers is strongly interwoven with the novel’s themes of guilt, grief, and wartime loss. Maisie follows Celia Davenham to a cemetery and purchases flowers there, as Celia does. She learns that the other woman purchases irises every week—the flowers are thus a marker of devotion. Maisie also tends to a nearby cemetery plot to observe Celia. She continues work on the neighboring plot, removing weeds and wishing “if only she could make the living as comfortable” (26). Blooms and grass remind her of grief and the ability to bring order and peace. The groundskeeper notices her work, ultimately explaining that more men besides Vincent died at the Retreat. Thus, Maisie’s care for flowers and plants yields metaphorical investigative fruit. Maisie finds on her return home during the war that “every cottage garden in the village was almost bereft of blooms” (197), suggesting that Britain itself is bereft during the conflict, reduced only to the practicalities of growing food.
In the present-day narrative, Maisie makes much of her return to the countryside of Kent and finds Maurice in the gardens, hard at work. In his retirement, he has devoted his free time to growing and nurturing roses.
By Jacqueline Winspear