The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley is the story of a famous pianist, born to wealth, who loses her family and tries to make meaning of her life by researching the life of another rich woman from 1939. At 447 pages with no fewer than 40 flashbacks, it’s pretty boring. I couldn’t recommend it. 0 out of 10 stars.
Julia is a famous concert pianist born to a wealthy family. She spent most of her youth surrounded by opulence and wealth and was catered to by rich men. Her viewpoint is egregiously distorted and self-involved, but that’s the protagonist of this novel. When her sister Alicia comes to visit her and suggests they attend an auction at Wharton Park to buy something for their father’s birthday, it starts Julia off down memory lane trying to make sense of her life through the past, namely the past of a wealthy eighteen year-old from 1939 who lived at Wharton Park named Olivia Drew-Norris.
The choppy writing style of this novel makes it appear it’s an assemblage of four novelists who cut and pasted their parts wherever it suited their fancy. It seems not more than a page goes by before the reader is subjected to another jarring flashback of some kind. Boring common activities are told from Alicia’s viewpoint followed by large sections of what appears to be diary entries in first person. Then the story goes over to Julia, her mundane activities, and long diary flashbacks told in Julia’s first person. Or perhaps they’re meant to be rambling inner monologues? Julia’s obsession with Wharton Park’s botanic house gives the novel it’s title but by page 100 I was bored to tears and the story hadn’t even taken off yet.
First, let’s talk about the choice of protagonist. Julia is a flat character. I don’t feel for her and she seems more of a caricature of what someone would imagine a rich person being, not a real person. Her desire to become absorbed with the 1939 activities of Oliva Drew-Norris really have no reasoning, at least not one that makes sense. It’s as though she just decides to drop her life and become someone else. As a person she’s unlikable. As a character, she’s boring.
Second, let’s talk about the writing. Flashbacks are discouraged in any novel and that’s just one. This one has about 40 of them. They’re jarring and placed in awkward locations. It would’ve been much less jarring had they been placed in chapters by themselves. It wouldn’t have made the novel more exciting, but at least less annoying.
Third, let’s talk obsessions. It’s clear this author doesn’t know what an obsession is. As Americans we know obsession. Our country was built on them. The common sense ways an average person would go about learning about a place, a building, a property, the people who owned the property, and their personal lives is pretty straight forward. Either Julia was dropped on her head as a child or she’s dumb as toast. Gossip? That’s your chosen avenue of fact-finding? I’m disappointed.
This novel reminded me of a combination of Danielle Steel’s novels Thurston House and Jewels. Danielle Steel spent most of her career writing about aristocrats and rich people. There really isn’t much of a market for that anymore.
0 out of 10 stars. I was really surprised that this novel was published. Over the past two decades publishing houses have turned to editors to push out novels that are more pages and less story than the novels produced in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s a real shame, but you can find plenty of indie authors on Amazon that are worth reading.
Excerpt 1 – Mundane Activities
Excerpt 2 – Long first person flashbacks