REVIEW: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxiere

I’ve put this book on my TBR years ago. I don’t remember why I did it (although, knowing myself, the cover tempted me), but I can only thank my past self. This book is beautiful.

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Alone in a country they do not know, Molly and Kip are in desperate need of a job. So desperate they accepted to work for the Windsor, the family living in the haunted Sourwoods. Once settled as servants, they begin to uncover the secrets of the family, the house and the tree that grows in it: what do they lock behind the strange,old green door? What does master Windsor do in there? What sickness is the family suffering? And who is the nightman the youngest child speaks of?

I liked almost everything about this book: the rounded characters you come to sympathize with (Kip is a real sweetheart, he’s probably my favourite), the compelling story that pushes you to go on reading to find out what’s going on. It has an eerie atmosphere about it, but being a book for 9-12 years old don’t expect it to scare you too much.
The only thing I didn’t like was how long the book began to feel toward the end. That’s when the pacing of the story, not the fastest but anyway flowing, started to feel a bit off. There is a particoular event (no spoilers!) that although required to end the story, really seem to cut the pace. Furthermore, the last chapters are short and some might have been merged as the switch serves only to change the character from whose point of view the story is told.

Despite this little flaw, however, it still is a beautiful story: it’s filled with magic, it tells about love, life, courage and the need to do what’s right; how sometimes what we want to do and what we have to do are very, very different things.

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DP explanation of High Days #1 – Samhain

Samhain, celebrated October 31, is the third and last harvest festival. The themes of this holiday are the beginning of the winter season, the re-making of the world and the return of the spirits to the world of the living.

Known also as the Calend of winter, Samhain marks the beginning of the winter season, a change that had impact on our ancestor’s life. Because the sustenance of Celtic populations came mostly from agriculture and livestock,  the beginning of winter marked the end of the work on the fields: the harvest had been reaped, the animals had been brought home to the safety of their sheds and those who went to pasture with the animals came back home too. The festival of Samhain was held after all this work had been done and it was believed bad luck to harvest after the festival.

To the Celts the alternation of light and dark had a profound symbolic meaning. The year was divided into two halves: the light began with Beltane, the dark with Samhain. The gap of time during which the celebrations takes place are a “time out of time”: because they are boundaries, they are both within this world and outside of it. This is the mythic time during which the world is destroyed and remade. Chaos prevails only to be followed by the re-creation of the world:

“during this interval the normal order of the universe is suspended, the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, the sídh lies open and all the divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among human beings and interfere, sometimes violently, in their affairs”[1]

The belief in the return of the spirits are reflected in the customs of the feast. The dumb supper, for example, survived up to the 20th century: food would be left out for the ancestors who walked the land during the night. An offering of corn or potatoes might also be left outside the house to the fairies, to propitiate good luck and a good harvest for the incoming year. Going out during the night was deemed inappropriate, as fairies fly from mound to mound and one could be snatched by them. Those brave enough to go outside disguised themselves, as Scotland costume demonstrates: masked and often with faces painted black, young men went around causing mischief during the night.

[1]Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana, pp. 127-128

Sources
Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana
Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
Celtic Heritage by A. Rees and B. Rees
http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/samhainn/
http://www.maryjones.us/jce/samhain.html