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Published July 20th 2019
Discover, desire and deception
After reading and being enthralled in Kayte Nunn's latest release, The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant, I just had to start exploring her back catalogue. This desire to be captured once again by of her wonderful novels led me to find the 2018 release The Botanist's Daughter.
Photo courtesy Booktopia
This is a book with two narratives. First, we meet Anna Jenkins in Sydney in 2017 after she inherits her Granny Gus' weatherworn, renovation needy cottage in Sydney's Paddington. Anna decides to take on the challenge of improving it and in the process finds a locked, engraved box at the back of a cupboard. The box, she discovers contains intricate, hand-painted illustrations of flowers and a curious, unmarked packet of seeds. As someone who runs a landscaping business and an interest in plants, this is doubly exciting and intriguing for Anna. But just who owns the box? Why was it hidden away? What is its story?
Then we are introduced to Elizabeth Trebithick in Cornwall in 1886, who is coming to terms with the recent loss of her beloved father John – a botanist who travels the world in search of rare, exotic plants. His dying wish is for Elizabeth to finish his life's' work and travel to Chile to locate a rare, exotic, poisonous and highly valuable plant called The Devils' Trumpet.
This is no mean feat for a single, young woman in the 19th century. And so she makes a promise to her father to search for the plant. Her father cautions her to beware of Mr Damien Chegwidden, a fellow botanist who her father deemed unscrupulous and devilish – only adding to the challenge and danger.
Kayte Nunn is a master at running two parallel stories in different time zones. Like many of her novels, The Botanist's Daughter is character driven by strong, independent women who defy social and family norms to follow their heads and hearts firmly steering towards adventure, self-awareness and unexpected love.
In an interview with the Book Muse, Kayte Nunn said, "The book is ultimately, I hope, about courage: Elizabeth's is bold and obvious, and Anna's more subtle, but both have to summon inner strength, albeit in different ways."
I found myself cheering for women as the story crisscrosses between their tales of exploration and exposition. I also created a cheeky family tree at the back of the book to help me keep track of the connections amongst the characters and trail of the who's who in the book.
This book is likely to appeal to those who love stories of historical intrigue, gardening and embedded in unlikely love connections. Bravo Kayte Nunn, once again for another wonderful novel, sure to please both the avid and occasional reader.
About the Author Kayte Nunn is a freelance book, magazine and web editor and the former editor of Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine. Her first novel, Rose's Vintage, was published in 2016, and Angel's Share in 2017. She is also the mother of two young daughters.