The Lemon Grove - Helen Walsh
4 to 4.5 STARS

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh takes you to Mallorca, the Mediterranean island where Jenn and Greg, an English couple, are spending their holidays.

It’s not the couple’s first time on the island, every year, they spend a week there, along with their 15 year-old daughter, Emma. But, this year, Emma, is bringing a guest - her 17 year-old boyfriend,Nathan.

Jenn is discontent and frustrated with her life and it’s fascinating how the author explores Jenn's self-awareness and the way she deals with aging, in relation to her stepdaughter’s youth. From Jenn's part there is a sense of longing, sorrow, regret and envy towards Emma and this is only heightened by Nathan’s presence.

Nathan is the "intruder", his presence affects the family's dynamics and is the catalyst for a turning point in their lives. Jenn is captivated by Nathan’s youth and he represents an escape from her reality. Their affair is not romanticized, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments, it is graphic and intense but, if you are an adventurous reader, who likes to delve into risqué/taboo stories, you might enjoy this story.

The Lemon Grove is a tale of a forbidden relationship between a married woman and her stepdaughter’s boyfriend but, it goes beyond that. One of the most interesting aspects about this novel is the way it explores Jenn and Emma’s relationship: when Emma was a kid, they had a loving stepmother-stepdaughter relationship but they became distant, Emma is now a teenager and Jenn can’t "reach" her and she struggles with that change and with her role in Emma’s life.

The author doesn't make it easy for the reader to “stomach” Jenn's betrayal to her husband and to her stepdaughter. The nature of Jenn and Emma’s relationship and the history between them, makes the “rationalization” of the affair even more challenging for the reader.

Don’t be fooled by the summery cover, this is not a light read and it’s not a romance. I think some of the low ratings might be a result of misguided expectations, this is the opposite of a beach/chick lit read - it’s full of atmosphere, it has evocative descriptions of the island and it makes you feel like you are in Mallorca, but this “relaxing” holiday setting contrasts with the story’s depth and intensity.

The characters aren’t loveable or redeemable, they are deeply flawed and can be easily misjudged, you only truly “know” the characters in the end of the book. The story is original, smart and unpredictable, it’s a short and compulsive read that it will keep you guessing until its very clever ending and even after that.

The writing is brilliant, I’m impressed with the complexity and depth of this novel by Ellen Walsh, it gives a frank and unforgiving approach to a controversial subject and when it comes to provocative reads this is one of the most interesting I’ve read so far.