In 1943, as the prologue of Garden of Lies (Open Road Media) opens, a young woman named Sylvie succumbs to her first stirrings of true passion—with the handyman, Nikos, instead of her rich, older husband. She soon discovers she’s pregnant.
Sylvie prays that the baby is her husband’s, but when the baby looks just like Nikos, she panics. Nikos is long gone—her husband had not been blind to the affair and fired him. So when a hospital fire breaks out and the mother of another infant perishes, Sylvie impulsively uses the cover of the smoky evacuation to swap her infant with that woman’s daughter, who will be easier to pass off as her husband’s.
You won’t like Sylvie much for this solution. Watching her suffer for it throughout the novel, however, may soften your heart.
Sylvie raises her “daughter,” Rachel, in comfortable surroundings while her biological daughter, Rose, is mistreated by an abusive grandmother in relative squalor. Rose is a good person, though, and has one true thing in her life: the love of Brian, whose promise of marriage holds her together as she awaits his return from war.
Meanwhile Rachel, now a doctor, heads to Vietnam to selflessly serve the wounded. Over several torturous weeks, her faithful ministrations save the life of an impossibly wounded soldier named…Brian…
Well, shoot. Our loyalties are all over the place on this one, as the lives of these two women, whose lives diverged on the day of their birth, come together.
The travails of Sylvie’s family, which elevated Garden of Lies to the number eight spot on the 1990 New York Times best-seller list for hardcover fiction, hold up well today. Goudge ensures that each character draws us deeper into her story’s world by giving each major character a point-of-view with which we can’t help but empathize. How their resulting tangle resolves in a hopeful way testifies both to the resiliency of the human spirit and the patient, loving attention with which Goudge lavishes each strand of her tale.
This speaks to the first thing that struck me about the Garden of Lies e-book, which was released by Open Road Media in 2011: the notification on my Kindle that my estimated reading time was more than fifteen hours. Now, I’m no speed-reader, but that’s more than twice the time estimated for most novels I download. What I suspected was a glitch sent me searching used bookshops online for the first edition, published by Viking, which weighed in at more than 570 pages.
Perhaps that wasn’t extraordinary for women’s fiction in 1986 when the novel was first released, but it is today. By the time you’ve traveled all the way through Eileen Goudge’s Garden of Lies, though, you’ll be crediting its length for ensuring the kind of immersive experience we readers seek in a great, timeless novel.
Garden of Lies is available for purchase.
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Eileen Goudge is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen women’s fiction titles, which include Garden of Lies, One Last Dance, and Woman in Red. Her newest title, Bones and Roses, is the first book in her Cypress Bay mystery series. Book two, Swimsuit Body came out in 2015. She lives in New York City with her husband, Sandy Kenyon, entertainment reporter and film critic for WABC-TV. She’s known to disappear into the wilds with her laptop from the time to time. A favorite getaway, her hometown of Santa Cruz, California, was the inspiration for the fictional town in her Cypress Bay mystery series.