by James Hamilton-Paterson (1993)
In an un-named European city just after World War II, the distinctly odd curator of a vast municipal greenhouse garden welcomes evening guests to admire and inhale the perfumes of his tropical plants, which open only at night. In his care, the exotic species have survived the war, his life being entirely devoted to studying their habits, ministering to their needs. He lives and breaths with them, literally, inhabiting a small space within the boiler room of the vast greenhouse, maintaining himself frugally without regard to his own comfort.The narrative is illuminated throughout by the botanically precise descriptions which only a gifted amateur naturalist such as Hamilton-Paterson could provide.
This is a fable, the steamy, erotic atmosphere of the vast greenhouse evoking echoes of the sprawling, overgrown grounds of Le Paradou in La Faute de L’Abbe Mouret (Zola), and of the magical, but poisonous, garden inhabited by Beatrice in Hawthore’s story Rappaccini’s Daughter. We are given glimpses of the wretched, indeed tragic, history of the curator of this exotic world, of the griefs which lie beneath his curious and compulsive character. His created world is seen as a way of dealing with that past, at the same time clinging on to a lost world and lost love.
Running through the narrative is the tantalising suggestion of a hidden secret within the green house – his ‘dark secret love’, which is only, finally, brought into the open when the outside world casts the cold light of reality on this steamy idyll - it is peace, the end of the war, that at last destroys the carefully preserved environment, threatening both the plants and the secret world of the curator.
An article about this extraordinary book will appear in a future issue of the magazine Slightly Foxed.Bibliophiles who don't already know about Slightly Foxed are strongly recommended to visit their website. http://www.foxedquarterly.com/