Julia Forrester, a concert pianist, has high cheekbones, almond eyes and a dark exotic beauty. Slowly recovering from a family tragedy and seeking comfort from her surroundings, her most vivid memory is of Wharton Park, the house where her grandfather was gardener to the Crawford family.
Seventy years earlier, on the cusp of the Second World War, Olivia Drew-Morris was invited with her parents for a weekend house party at Wharton Park. Olivia had arrived from India only two months earlier into a damp and dismal England. She missed the noise and colours of the land where she had been born and always lived, but was fated never to return when she fell in love with Harry Crawford.
Our two heroines are thus placed in this saga of large houses, frivolous parties, servants and flirtations, and Lucinda Riley gives us a blockbuster novel of families entwined forever by undisclosed secrets. The beginning of the book is a little shaky. The dialogue and mannerisms of the characters from the late 1930s reflect an earlier period. It is as if monochrome pictures gleaned from periodicals have been grafted onto episodes and events. However the defeat of the Japanese in Singapore and the aftermath in the Far East are well told. Thailand and its people are gently observed, and the atmosphere lovingly described. When the present day is entwined within the story, the author is on much firmer ground.
Hothouse Flower gives us tears and angst, secrets to unravel and several romantic stories. Imaginative, but more a modern novel embroidered in fancy costume than historical fiction. The book ends more confidently than it began.