THE LEMON GROVE by Helen Walsh


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Walsh, winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize for her second novel, Once Upon a Time in England (2008), sets her new one in Majorca during the last week of a married couple’s annual summer vacation.

Jenn and Greg are in heaven, lazing about in their familiar house, a rental they just manage to afford on a professor’s salary, enjoying the quiet comfort their long-term marriage provides, when their teenage daughter, Emma, stirs up their last lazy days by bringing her new, inappropriately older boyfriend, Nathan, into their lives. Before long there are hints that Jenn's close inspection of Nathan may be more attraction than careful observation. Soon, she's betraying everyone around her to fulfill her own desires. Walsh is attempting something difficult here, creating a high-minded literary look at adulterous entanglement while also providing a quintessential steamy beach read, with scene after scene of flirtatious signals where spoken words aren’t needed. Instead we get this: “He moves his fingers down over her palm and slots them through hers. She can’t look at him. She stands there, letting him stroke her hand, staring out to sea; he is looking back into the cave. His touch feels like hot, wet earth. Her breathing is staccato, too loud.” The problem is that there’s little reason for any of it to happen; we don’t learn enough about Jenn to be invested in her betrayal of both her husband, who's absent for most of the narrative, and her daughter, who we eventually learn is actually Greg’s offspring and her stepdaughter. It isn't just that Jenn is stereotypically self-absorbed and unlikable; it’s that every character is flat.

The seductive and enticing drama Walsh tries to lay out can be seen coming a mile away across the stunning landscape. The ending is meant to be a cliffhanger, but there’s nothing much to imagine happening next.

Pub Date: July 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-53853-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2014


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