The qualities that make this novel a book of rare and rich experience are the writer’s exquisite, unspoiled perceptions of childhood and his memories of a lost world which delighted a small boy. Behind this tale of nostalgic reminiscence there is a subtle contrast of backgrounds and characters, and this blending of temperamental differences of race and culture gives a more tangible flavor and substance to L. A. G. Strong’s biographical novel.
THE GARDEN is a tender tale of Dermot’s development from a boy into a young man. During most of his holidays, from a time he can barely remember to his last one in 1914, the English lad visits his grandparents and cousins in Ireland, “the dearest and loveliest place in the world,” where one can see for “one hundred and ten miles.” Eventually he grows up, and he and his cousin go off to die in a war. The story is beautifully told. Strong displays the narrative qualities of a gifted raconteur; his style is crisp and expressive, and his humor is gentle and without malice as he unfolds the life of Dermot. The author obviously has great empathy with his characters; he is sometimes sentimental, but the book is saved by the simplicity of its development. The novel is rich in dialogue, and most of Strong’s characterizations are clear.
One of the most important decisions Dermot must make while growing up is whether to choose the matter-of-fact religion of his mother or the simple, demonstrative faith of his cousins. The latter faith makes life easier to live; it impresses him so much that he appreciates the sense of it, although his intellect tells him that it has not been fully explained. Dermot loves the ritual of his grandparents’ church during his earlier childhood, and the stained glass window with Christ walking on the water is one of his delights. His favorite scripture, “Heaviness may endure for the night; but joy cometh in the morning,” is his epitaph.
In the epilogue, after the deaths of Dermot and his cousin, Dermot’s sister tells their cousin, Eileen, that she likes to think of them together, happy and laughing at her confusion about the faith of which her aunt said, “seems easy enough to me. It’s the living of it that’s hard.”