The Garden: Urgent, eloquent rebuke to our pillaging of nature

Book review: Paul Perry slyly ironises a variety of cultural and literary tropes

The novel also evokes the classic American western, transplanted now into swampy Florida. Photograph: Jeff Greenberg/Getty

The novel also evokes the classic American western, transplanted now into swampy Florida. Photograph: Jeff Greenberg/Getty

Early in Paul Perry’s powerful and absorbing novel The Garden, we glimpse what would appear to be a personal heaven. The description is offered by the book’s narrator Swallow who, accompanied by his boss Blanchard and their associates, is searching the south Florida landscape for the vanishingly rare and precious ghost orchid. Much is at stake in this hunt: yet another hurricane has just swept through, and possession of this plant – this most precious of commodities – may be key to restoring the fortunes of the eponymous garden, an orchid farm on the fringes of the Everglades.

This paradise, however, is already lost: horrors lurk in the shallows. “I preferred,” Swallow tells us, “to be closer to the mangroves and everglades, to the land in its natural habitat. Sometimes it felt like I’d been travelling to get here my whole life, and sometimes I just felt trapped by the beauty, and the sun, and by something else I didn’t even know the name to.” Swallow has barely begun to reveal himself, but already a tone is set: this is a place and a life in which sun and the fecundity of nature mingle with menace and the onset of danger in manifold forms.

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