When we launched our Fantasy/Paranormal theme, I knew that I have found a perfect book to feature after reading Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.
On occasion, you come across a book that grips you, whispers to you in its own distinct voice, and leaves fluttering echoes in your mind even after you’ve closed the book. This is one such novel.
These are the lines that made it for me in the book. As per usual, I took photos of the pages that moved me and edited them using an iPhone app:
More than just a scary/creepy book, this is a novel that talks about love between siblings and the sense of responsibility that an older sister (Molly) has towards a younger brother (Kip) who is physically lame. Like all classic sibling stories (reminiscent of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events), Molly and Kip are orphans. Their parents died on the boat as they were migrating from Ireland to England. It is Molly’s sharp wits and her quick tongue that has so far, kept the children alive – and her stout-hearted desire to keep the flame of hope alive in her brother’s heart about their parents’ fate. She has also found a job in an English manor house as a servant – considerably better than staying in an orphanage. It is in that house that the siblings’ strength of character is put to the test, in addition to Molly’s skills when it comes to word-weaving.
Hester, the old storyteller with the hurdy-gurdy fascinated me to no end. There is something about her constant movement from place to place, her assorted odds and ends, her gypsy-like quality that draws me to her. Hester’s conversations with Molly and Kip were a toss between riddles, word play, and enigmatic life lessons wrapped in parables and the power of myths and the life-changing quality of legends.
And at the core of this story is darkness deeply rooted in time and fallen leaves, a desire for growth and life at the same time that it reeks of death. There is obsession here too, packaged innocuously as gifts and presents from the ‘giving tree’ kept in full horrid bloom by The Night Gardener with the hollow eyes. The breathing tree seems to know exactly what each heart wants, keenly aware of its yearnings and barely-kept secrets. It is reminiscent of the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter where you would be able to see your heart’s desires through the reflection in the mirror. It does make one wonder what the tree can possibly give you that you don’t already have – or what the mirror’s reflection reveals about you and your innermost desires and thoughts. The only problem is that while both the tree and the mirror give in full, they also demand something insidious in return. One can not simply take without leaving a fragment of their soul behind, or without wasting away in the taking.
As fantastical as it sounds, Auxier made it so heartbreakingly real through his words that are so skilfully put together, I feel that he has cast a spell on the reader, while at the same time staying as far away as possible from the narrative that you don’t feel any intrusion at all – like a puppet master with his invisible Ariadne-like, enchanted strings. Hester’s fascination with The Night Gardener borders on moribund fascination – yet at the end of it all, aren’t all storytellers merely slaves to the muse, no matter what form it took?
Then again, is make-believe nothing but a pack of fancy lies to make people feel good about themselves? Is that all there is to it?
If you know the answer to Hester’s question, let me know dear friends.
This story has depth that even young people can resonate with. It touches the edges of darkness without losing one’s self in it. Yet there is enough fodder for those with deliciously-gothic sensibilities, but not enough to overwhelm the wide-eyed, tender-hearted ones. More importantly, there would be one or two things here that any reader can lose themselves in, wherever they are in their lives. And that, for me, is what makes this book a classic in the making.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Published by Amulet Books, 2014. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.