This is the second historical fiction novel by New Zealander, Stephanie Parkyn. Her critically acclaimed, debut novel, Into the World, set during the French Revolution, concerned the life of Marie-Louise Girardin, infamous for travelling the world disguised as a cabin boy. Josephine’s Garden is placed in the aftermath of the French Revolution and explores how Rose de Beauharnais narrowly escapes the guillotine to eventually become Napoleon’s Empress Josephine.
It’s a novel about survival and compromise during a time of chaos and confusion. Parkyn describes a corrupt society that treats women as playthings, pawns and producers of progeny, through the loves and losses of three women: Josephine, Anne and Marthe. It’s also a novel about growth and nurturing. The link between the three characters is gardening and botany. Marthe’s husband is a world-renowned explorer and botanist, Anne’s is a gifted gardener tending the late Marie Antoinette’s neglected gardens, and Josephine has an obsession for creating beautiful gardens with rare and exotic flora and fauna.
Parkyn’s descriptions are a sensory delight, especially where she depicts the process of trying to germinate seeds from the Southern Hemisphere in the damp French environment. Parkyn was an environmental scientist, so she writes from real experience. Psychologically her characters are well-developed and credible, and the story is exciting and gripping. Josephine’s Garden is an enjoyable read by a gifted storyteller.