- Title: The Lemon Grove
- Author: Helen Walsh
- ISBN 0345813960 (ISBN13: 9780345813961)
- Series: Stand Alone
- Published: February 25th 2014 by Random House Canada
- Format: Hardcover
- Genre/s: Literary Fiction
- Print Length: 288 pages
- Source: Publisher
- Rating: B-
The Lemon Grove was a sultry, decadent read that immediately put me in mind of indulgence of all manner. Despite the excellent writing and exquisite descriptions I found I had trouble empathising with Jenn’s character.
Taking place over the course of one week, The Lemon Grove lands in the heat of Deia, a village on an island off the southeast coast of Spain. Jenn and Greg are on their annual holiday to enjoy languorous, close afternoons by the pool, and relaxed dinners overlooking the rocks. But the equilibrium is upset by the arrival of their teenage daughter, Emma, and her boyfriend, Nathan. Jenn, in her early forties, loves her (older) husband and her (step)daughter and is content with her life, she thinks. But when this beautiful, reckless young man comes into her world, she is caught by a sexual compulsion that she’s seldom felt before. As the lines hotly blur between attraction, desire and obsession, Jenn’s world is thrown into tumult-by Nathan’s side, she could be young and carefree once again, and at this stage in her life, the promise of youth is every bit as seductive as the promise of passion.
For all intents and purposes Jenn is happily married, she and her husband Greg have visited Deia many times. What sets this visit apart is the impending arrival of their fifteen year old daughter with her boyfriend. While this occurrence is not in and of itself so very unusual, doing so at the relatively young age of fifteen did give me pause particularly with a boy they have not met before. Emma pleaded and cajoled Jenn into encouraging Greg to allow her to bring her new older boyfriend along. As a parent I am familiar with the “playing both ends against the middle tactic”, what was more discordant was the depiction of this mother daughter relationship. Jenn married Emma’s widowed father when she was just a toddler making Jenn the only mother Emma would have ever known. However, Emma and Jenn’s actions throughout the novel were more characteristic of a more traditional antagonistic step-parent child relationship with that largely unspoken division of “you’re not my real parent”, where the biological parent is still living or at least has lived long enough to act as a parent to the child in question. Emma’s mother died when she was still in infancy and Jenn’s work as a care giver should have made her a natural adoptive mother to Emma. This not the case though, Jenn allows Emma and Greg both to exclude her from their relationship instead of demanding her parental rights.
Nathan’s arrival highlights Jenn’s largely unrecognized mid-life crisis and she is painfully susceptible to his machinations. Jenn seems to view Emma more as a rival rather than feeling guilt for her actions, if not in undermining her daughter then I would think out of loyalty toward her husband. Perhaps I am idealizing the relationship between parent and child and while I acknowledge that rivalry does exist between some mothers and daughters. Jenn’s almost complete disregard of Emma’s feelings seemed particularly out of keeping even considering they were not in fact blood relations. Nathan’s singular appeal also escaped me beyond his physical beauty, which seemed not to be compelling enough for Jenn’s to take the risks that she does.
Ultimately, while I question the veracity of Jenn’s actions particularly her lack of empathy or really even remorse The Lemon Grove is a quick, compelling read that made me heartily wish for a pitcher of Sangria, Mediterranean food and the opportunity to sunbathe.
Helen Walsh was born in Warrington in 1977 and moved to Barcelona at the age of sixteen. Working as a fixer in the red light district, she saved enough money to put herself through language school. Burnt out and broke, she returned to England a year later and now works with socially excluded teenagers in North Liverpool.
Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review.