GRIEFWORK by James Hamilton-Paterson


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 The prolific, British-born Hamilton-Paterson (Ghosts of Manila, 1994, etc.) gives his familiar theme of expatriates and endangered habitats a twist, here portraying a complex, otherworldly gardener as he copes with the chaos in postWW II Europe. Leon is the peerless curator of the Palm House, a collection of exotic tropical plants kept under glass as the crown jewel in an unnamed northern European city's Botanical Garden. Possessed of a green thumb and an entrepreneurial flairwhich prompt him to cultivate night-blooming species, then open his domain to visitors after darkLeon has still other notable qualities. A solitary youth raised at the edge of the North Sea, he listened so closely to it that he could hear fish communicating. After he transplants himself to the city, his talents, along with intense study, earn him the curator's post, and he lives in the Palm House throughout the Nazi occupation largely undisturbed (because his boss collaborates with the Gestapo), listening to and conversing with his wisecracking, world-weary flora. Near war's end, Leon saves a castrated gypsy from a mob outside the garden walls, but when the traumatized youth remains mute, he keeps him squirreled away as the object of his lust. Meanwhile, postwar development pressure has made the Garden's urban site a plum ripe for the plucking, so that Leon can be tempted by an Asian princess to return home with her to build a cold-climate house in the tropics. A palace coup voids that plan, but Leon's main-chance boss still conspires against him, and when his toy boy runs amok in the Palm House, breaking enough glass to make it as wintry inside as out, Leon's ever-fragile health betrays him too. The damp, fecund exchanges in this enclosed space are at times inspired and disturbing, but thinly misted melodrama and shallowly rooted characters ultimately undo the magic of the tale's premise.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-16699-4
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1995


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