Monday, May 16, 2011

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock tells the story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, an English woman who lived from 1700-1788. Married to a sixty-one year-old man at sixteen, she was a widow by twenty-five and waited twenty years to finally remarry. After her second husband, who she loved, died she moved in with a close friend of hers and at the age of 72, picked up a pair of scissors and created a new art form. Creating almost one thousand botanically correct, cup-paper flowers, Mary Delany was the founder of collage. Intertwined with Peacock's biography of Mary is pieces of her own story and the connection she has found to the remarkable artist.

At first look, The Paper Garden was exactly my kind of book. I love memoirs, my mother is an artist, and I have spent most of my post-graduate education learning about plants. However when I picked up the book, something just didn't click with me as a reader. One problem was that some of the "scientific" statements bothered me, for example she says that "All flowers have both ovaries and semen-(a.k.a pollen-) forming organs.", which is completely incorrect, there are many flowers which are imperfect, meaning that that they contain only female or male reproductive organs, not both. This sort of statement is not something whose inaccuracy I wouldn't have recognized if I didn't have at least a rudimentary understanding of botany, but considering Peacock has written a non-fiction book where botany plays an important role I was disappointed to find incorrect science within it. I was reading an advanced copy of the book so perhaps it was changed in the final version, but finding even one false statement made me doubt the accuracy of the entire work in a way that I didn't enjoy.

At times I found the story-telling style simply too dramatic for me, for example at one point Peacock writes of Delany riding a horse on the beach that "the cantering four-legged beauty between her legs a vigorous inversion of the ineffective beast of a man at home." a line which feels more appropriate for a romance novel than a biography. In fact, The Paper Garden isn't a biography in the traditional sense of the word, and while at times this makes it wonderful and unique, there were also many times when as a scientifically-minded individual I was overwhelmed by Peacock's interpretations and wanted to shout, tell me the facts. Sometimes, the flowery language was simply too much (no pun intended).

It took me a lot longer than I expected to read The Paper Garden, and a lot of that had to do with the difficulty I had getting immersed in the story. The premise itself is really fascinating, and I was definitely intrigued to learn more about this fantastic woman who was a pioneer is so many ways, but Peacock's language and personally interpretations often lost me. Although there are many positive reviews of the book out there, ultimately the pace of the book was simply too slow for me. Overall, there was a lot that excited and enticed me into picking up The Paper Garden, but unfortunately there wasn't a lot that kept me reading.

Release Date: October 12th, 2010
Pages: 416
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Zoe, well shoot!! I'm sorry it wasn't a hit with you, but your review is really fair and tells exactly what worked and what didn't work, which I really appreciate. Thanks so much for being on the tour!


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