The Midsummer Garden (Kirsty Manning, A&U)
The Midsummer Garden is the first novel from former lifestyle and travel writer Kirsty Manning, and follows two storylines in tandem. One narrative centres on medieval French cook Artemisia and her lover, and the other on modern-day Australian PhD researcher and cook, Pip, and her fiancé Jack. It soon becomes clear that the events from the two timelines are entwined, despite being separated by over 500 years. Manning has previously published a cookery and gardening book (We Love Food), and these interests are reflected in The Midsummer Garden, which reads like an extended love letter to the culinary arts. Both narratives are liberally dosed with descriptions of flavours and landscapes, and while Manning’s lovingly rendered depictions of southern Tasmania and Mediterranean Europe will resonate with readers familiar with these locations and their cuisines, it does tend to crowd out other elements of the story. Many of the novel’s characters are frustratingly two-dimensional, rendering key plot points unconvincing. Most jarring is the book’s conclusion, where one story ends well, but only at the expense of the other—violent tragedy this late in the piece will come as a shock to readers looking for a Happily Ever After.
Vicki Stegink is an editorial assistant at Books+Publishing