To many a maze and a labyrinth are synonymous. Often a maze is depicted as having high wall or hedges and a number of dead-ends making it a puzzle to navigate and reach the centre. The term ‘labyrinth’ covers a lot more possibilities. They have been around for a very long time. In prehistoric times it is thought that they were designed as traps for malevolent spirits. A more modern take on them is that the pattern is symbolic of a pilgrimage through life.
Certainly they have been used for meditation and some believe that they are associated with magic. The labyrinth has been a potent symbol in many cultures particularly those of Northern Europe.
‘Threading The Labyrinth’ is the story of a walled garden and the people who worked there. At one time it did have a labyrinth within it. It is not described in detail but was likely to be a turf one as dirt paths were cut into the grass. In the early 17th century, the lady of the house had it removed but the traces of it are likely to be imprinted within the walls.
The house and its grounds, including the walled garden, are entailed through the female line. In 2010, American gallery owner Toni Hammond is told that she has inherited it. Though she flies to England to see her property, her reaction is to sell, especially as the house is largely in ruins and the gardens overgrown. Yet the walled garden has a seductive effect on her. Sitting in it she sees things that cannot possibly be there.
Walking a turf labyrinth means that you can see both where you have been and where you are going. The labyrinth in the garden allows some of the visitors to do that. There are sections dealing with connections from the past. In the 1770s, despite the estate being entailed down the female line, the Lord of the manor wants to re-sculpt the gardens despite his wife’s reluctance. This section not only introduces the mysteries and influences the garden has but shows the aristocracy in all its arrogance.
As her Ladyship wins the right to keep the garden intact, the people who really care for it work quietly in the background. At the heart of this novel is not just the garden but the unconsidered, the gardeners without whom it would lose its significance.
Just as there is continuity is the manor, so there is in the garden among the family of gardeners. It is a women, who have the greatest influence, who are able to see the phantoms of both past and future. As she explores her unexpected inheritance, Toni Hammond finds traces of these women and, in particular, the photographs taken by Mary Hill who, in the 19th century was taught how to make images using glass plate photography by her aunt.
Mary experimented, using different amounts of light to create her pictures, in the garden at night. She photographed the ghosts. Among them was a Second World War Land Girl. These and other clues help Toni to work out the significance of the garden and to decide what she wants to do with her inheritance. The labyrinth may be hidden but it still works its magic.
One of the delights of this novel is the way that it focuses on the invisible. Not just the ghosts or the labyrinth itself but the gardeners who tend it. To the Lord and Lady of the estate, servants are invisible. Here we have an insight into their lives and through their eyes see the changes, not just of the seasons and the land but in society itself, theirs and of the aristocracy.
To this end, the book has been meticulously researched but that never overwhelms the reader who is drawn into the intricacies of the Hill family tree.
The only thing that I would have liked more of is the labyrinth itself. Otherwise, this is an excellent debut novel. Well done, Tiffani.
(pub: Unsung Stories, 2020. 357 page paperback. Price £ 9.99. ISBN: 978-1-912658-09-1)
check out website: www.unsungstories.co.uk/