Five characters—two of whom are ghosts—are linked, in part, by the time they spend at Kew Gardens in London.
Udall’s debut novel introduces a music teacher, Jonah Wilson, who gave up a recording career so he and his late wife, Audrey, could try to start a family. Readers learn through the remembrances of Jonah and another man named Harry Barclay that Audrey, a linguist, had a series of miscarriages before she died and had been visiting Harry, who cares for plants at Kew. Harry looks after Milly, a little girl who loves the gardens as much as he does, but something is amiss—Harry warns her away from some Kew visitors, and others can't see Harry or Milly. Jonah meets Chloe Adams in the gardens, where she’s preparing for an exhibit of her elaborate paper art and origami. Udall folds all of this into a story about grief, pain, and longing but also love, friendship, and desire. Details about Audrey’s lost pregnancies and Jonah’s life as a widower are vivid, and botanical and historical information about Kew Gardens add interest. The supernatural aspects of the story distract from rather than enhance it, though. Some of the prose is a bit overwrought, as in this passage about Jonah on a sleepless night: “He lumbers from room to room, switching on lights, wearing only a T-shirt. His lower half is naked, as vulnerable as a child’s.” The big reveals about what happened to Audrey, who Harry and Milly are, and what will become of Jonah and Chloe come quickly one after the other, lending a slightly rushed feel to the end of the book, although there is room for readers to come to their own conclusions.
A quirky debut novel, heartfelt in its portrayal of human emotions, pleasantly surprising, but slightly overdone.