The Lavender Garden: A Novel

The Lavender Garden: A Novel

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by Lucinda Riley

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Note to readers: In the UK, this book is published under the title The Light Behind the Window.

An aristocratic French family, a legendary château, and buried secrets with the power to destroy two generations torn between duty and desire.

La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la


Note to readers: In the UK, this book is published under the title The Light Behind the Window.

An aristocratic French family, a legendary château, and buried secrets with the power to destroy two generations torn between duty and desire.

La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions...

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the château itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.

Editorial Reviews

Naples Daily News
“A magnificent novel…enchanting and full of heart.”
"A sweeping, engrossing work... Engaging."
From the Publisher
"A sweeping, engrossing work... Engaging."
Kirkus Reviews
It's time for privileged but uncertain Frenchwoman Emilie to find herself, but to do so, she must first fall impulsively in love, uncover her family's wartime history and come to grips with the neglected chateau she has inherited. Riley's (The Girl on the Cliff, 2012, etc.) multiple storylines offer the reader a narrative combo in this tale of self-confidence–lacking, only-child Emilie de la Martinières, whose mother's recent death has left her with sole responsibility for the family's Provençal estate. The house story soon morphs into a romance as Englishman Sebastian Carruthers enters Emilie's life, offering conveniently valuable help in dealing with the overwhelming responsibilities now facing her. But is Sebastian up to no good? Things turn a little gothic after Emilie's marriage to Sebastian and temporary move to his remote, cold home in England, which is shared with Sebastian's smarter but misunderstood brother, Alex, a man with a complicated history who is now confined to a wheelchair after an accident. But there's more. Sebastian and Alex's grandmother knew Emilie's father; in fact, both served in the French Resistance, and their story emerges episodically as Riley deftly, if flatly, juggles her plot strands to reach a surprisingly anticlimactic conclusion. A value-for-money saga, solid but lifeless and missing a lavender garden.

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The Lavender Garden

  • Gassin, South of France

    Spring 1998

    Emilie felt the pressure on her hand relax and looked down at her mother. As she watched, it seemed that, while Valérie’s soul departed her body, the pain that had contorted her features was disappearing too, enabling Emilie to look past the emaciated face and remember the beauty her mother had once possessed.

    “She has left us,” murmured Phillipe, the doctor, pointlessly.


    Behind her, she heard the doctor muttering a prayer, but had no thought to join him in it. Instead, she stared down in morbid wonder at the sack of slowly graying flesh which was all that remained of the presence that had dominated her life for thirty years. Emilie instinctively wanted to prod her mother awake, because the transition from life to death—given the force of nature Valérie de la Martinières had been—was too much for her senses to accept.

    She wasn’t sure how she should feel. After all, she had played this moment over in her head on many occasions in the past few weeks. Emilie turned away from her dead mother’s face and gazed out the window at the wisps of cloud suspended like uncooked meringues in the blue sky. Through the open window, she could hear the faint cry of a lark come to herald the spring.

    Rising slowly, her legs stiff from the long nighttime hours she had been sitting vigil, she walked over to the window. The early-morning vista had none of the heaviness that the passing of the hours would eventually bring. Nature had painted a fresh picture as it did every dawn, the soft Provençal palette of umber, green, and azure gently ushering in the new day. Emilie gazed across the terrace and the formal gardens to the undulating vineyards that surrounded the house and spread across the earth for as far as her eyes could see. The view was simply magnificent and had remained unchanged for centuries. Château de la Martinières had been her sanctuary as a child, a place of peace and safety; its tranquillity was indelibly printed into every synapse of her brain.

    And now it was hers—though whether her mother had left anything behind from her financial excesses to continue to fund its upkeep, Emilie did not know.

    “Mademoiselle Emilie, I’ll leave you alone so you may say goodbye.” The doctor’s voice broke into her thoughts. “I’ll take myself downstairs to fill out the necessary form. I am so very sorry.” He gave her a small bow and left the room.

    Am I sorry . . . ?

    The question flashed unbidden through Emilie’s mind. She walked back to the chair and sat down once more, trying to find answers to the many questions her mother’s death posed, wanting a resolution, to add and subtract the conflicting emotional columns to produce a definitive feeling. This was, of course, impossible. The woman who lay so pathetically still—so harmless to her now, yet such a confusing influence while she had lived—would always bring the discomfort of complexity.

    Valérie had given her daughter life, she had fed and clothed her and provided a substantial roof over Emilie’s head. She had never beaten or abused her.

    She simply had not noticed her.

    Valérie had been—Emilie searched for the word—disinterested. Which had rendered her, as her daughter, invisible.

    Emilie reached out her hand and put it on top of her mother’s.

    “You didn’t see me, Maman . . . you didn’t see . . .”

    Emilie was painfully aware that her birth had been a reluctant nod to the need to produce an heir for the de la Martinières line; a requirement contrived out of duty, not maternal desire for a child. And faced with an “heiress” rather than the requisite male, Valérie had been further disinterested. Too old to conceive again—Emilie had been born in the very last flush of her mother’s fertility at forty-three—Valérie had continued her life as one of Paris’s most charming, generous, and beautiful hostesses. Emilie’s birth and subsequent presence had seemed to hold as much importance for Valérie as the acquisition of a further Chihuahua to add to the three she already owned. Like the dogs, Emilie was produced from the nursery and petted in company when it suited Maman to do so. At least the dogs had the comfort of one another, Emilie mused, whereas she had spent vast tracts of her childhood alone.

    Nor had it helped that she’d inherited the de la Martinières features rather than the delicate, petite blondness of her mother’s Slavic ancestors. Emilie had been a stocky child, her olive skin and thick, mahogany hair—trimmed every six weeks into a bob, the fringe forming a heavy line above her dark eyebrows—a genetic gift from her father, Édouard.

    “I look at you sometimes, my dear, and can hardly believe you are the child I gave birth to!” her mother would comment on one of her rare visits to the nursery on her way out to the opera. “But at least you have my eyes.”

    Emilie wished sometimes she could tear the deep-blue orbs out of their sockets and replace them with her father’s beautiful hazel eyes. She didn’t think they fitted in her face, and besides, every time she looked through them into the mirror, she saw her mother.

    It had often seemed to Emilie that she had been born without any gift her mother might value. Taken to ballet lessons at the age of three, Emilie found that her body refused to contort itself into the required positions. As the other little girls fluttered around the studio like butterflies, she struggled to find physical grace. Her small, wide feet enjoyed being planted firmly on the earth, and any attempt to separate them from it resulted in failure. Piano lessons had been equally unsuccessful, and as for singing, she was tone-deaf.

    Neither did her body accommodate well the feminine dresses her mother insisted she wear if a soiree was taking place in the exquisite, rose-filled garden at the back of the Paris house—the setting for Valérie’s famous parties. Tucked away on a seat in the corner, Emilie would marvel at the elegant, charming, and beautiful woman floating between her guests with such gracious professionalism. During the many social occasions at the Paris house and then in the summer at the château in Gassin, Emilie would feel tongue-tied and uncomfortable. On top of everything else, it seemed she had not inherited her mother’s social ease.

    Yet, to the outsider, it would have seemed she’d had everything. A fairy-tale childhood—living in a beautiful house in Paris, her family from a long line of French nobility stretching back centuries, and with the inherited wealth still intact after the war years—it was a scenario that many other young French girls could only dream of.

    At least she’d had her beloved papa. Although no more attentive to her than Maman, due to his obsession with his ever-growing collection of rare books, which he kept at their château, when Emilie did manage to catch his attention, he gave her the love and affection she craved.

    Papa had been sixty when she was born and died when she was fourteen. Time spent together had been rare, but Emilie had understood that much of her personality was derived from him. Édouard was quiet and thoughtful, preferring his books and the peace of the château to the constant flow of acquaintances Maman brought into their homes. Emilie had often pondered just how two such polar opposites had fallen in love in the first place. Yet Édouard seemed to adore his younger wife, made no complaint at her lavish lifestyle, even though he lived more frugally himself, and was proud of her beauty and popularity on the Paris social scene.

    Often, when summer had come to an end and it was time for Valérie and Emilie to return to Paris, Emilie would beg her father to let her stay.

    “Papa, I love it here in the countryside with you. There is a school in the village . . . I could go there and look after you, because you must be so lonely here at the château by yourself.”

    Édouard would chuck her chin affectionately, but shake his head. “No, little one. As much as I love you, you must return to Paris to learn both your lessons and how to become a lady like your mother.”

    “But, Papa, I don’t want to go back with Maman, I want to stay here, with you . . .”

    And then, when she was thirteen . . . Emilie blinked away sudden tears, still unable to return to the moment when her mother’s disinterest had turned to neglect. She would suffer the consequences of it for the rest of her life.

    “How could you not see or care what was happening to me, Maman? I was your daughter!”

    A sudden flicker of one of Valérie’s eyes caused Emilie to jump in fear that, in fact, Maman was still alive after all and had heard the words she had just spoken. Trained to know the signs, Emilie checked Valérie’s wrist for a pulse and found none. It was, of course, the last physical vestige of life as her muscles relaxed into death.

    “Maman, I will try to forgive you. I will try to understand, but just now I cannot say whether I’m happy or sad that you are dead.” Emilie could feel her own breathing stiffening, a defense mechanism against the pain of speaking the words out loud. “I loved you so much, tried so hard to please you, to gain your love and attention, to feel . . . worthy as your daughter. My God! I did everything!” Emilie balled her hands into fists. “You were my mother!”

    The sound of her own voice echoing across the vast bedroom shocked her into silence. She stared at the de la Martinières family crest, painted 250 years ago onto the majestic headboard. Fading now, the two wild boars locked in combat with the ubiquitous fleur-de-lis and the motto, “Victory Is All,” emblazoned below were barely legible.

    She shivered suddenly, although the room was warm. The silence in the château was deafening. A house once filled with life was now an empty husk, housing only the past. She glanced down at the signet ring on the smallest finger of her right hand, depicting the family crest in miniature. She was the last surviving de la Martinières.

    Emilie felt the sudden weight of centuries of ancestors upon her shoulders, and the sadness of a great and noble lineage reduced to one unmarried and childless thirty-year-old woman. The family had borne the ravages of hundreds of years of brutality, but the First and Second World Wars had seen only her father survive.

    At least there would be none of the usual scrapping over the inheritance. Due to an outdated Napoleonic law, all brothers and sisters directly inherited their parents’ property equally. Many was the family who had been brought to near ruin by one child who refused to agree to sell. Sadly, in this case, les héritiers en ligne directe amounted simply to her.

    Emilie sighed. Sell she might have to, but those were thoughts for another day. Now it was time to say good-bye.

    “Rest in peace, Maman.” She placed a light kiss on top of the graying forehead, then crossed herself. Rising wearily from the chair, Emilie left the room, closing the door firmly behind her.

  • Meet the Author

    Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, The Seven Sisters, and The Storm Sister. Her books have sold more than five million copies in thirty languages. She lives in London and the English countryside with her husband and four children. Visit her online at

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    The Lavender Garden: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself."- Beethoven. A rather cryptic quote to open this amazing work of historical fiction. Its the story of an aristocratic French family, whose last remaining heir has buried her mother and, in a way, gets shoved into the real world and forced to "grow up". And, she makes mistakes, as we all do. Through a series of flashback story arcs, Emilie learns the history, both good and bad, of her father and his family during WW2. It is a love story, a sheltered story, a mystery, a war story, a survival story, and a story that will haunt you. And, through it all Emilie goes through her her own crises as her husband is a user, her perceptions of worthiness and her ability to care and to love are tested, and her understanding of her self matures. I am a note taker because of my reviews, and the notes from this book are many and complex. Part of me thought it was a bit too long, but upon reflection, I really am glad I stuck with it. Lucinda Riley is adept at writing this type of story, and I will read others of hers in the future
    MTDIVA More than 1 year ago
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is how your review will appear: 5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Period Mystery Drama, September 27, 2013 By MOONBEAM - See all my reviewsThis review is from: The Lavender Garden: A Novel (Paperback) This is another hit by novelist Lucinda Riley!! Fans of "The Orchid House" and "The Girl On The Cliff" will not be disappointed with "The Lavender House". The main character, Emilie, is the sole heir to a magnificent Paris property - one that has been in the family for generations. As Emilie uncovers the history of the property, she begins to uncover a series of mysteries and history, mainly centered around WWII and the Nazi Occupation of France. The past and the present are brought to life in this richly detailed story. The history is interwoven with the present and the reader is spellbound by a good mystery, love story, and historic tale, all bundled into on fabulous period mystery drama! Our Book Club has begun its Fall/Winter gatherings, and already this book is the main buzz! Highly recommended, easy to read, but hard to put down!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The Lavender Garden was the third book by Lucinda Riley that I have read and I loved them all. I love a book that I cannot put down until I have finished it and all of her books, so far, have kept me turning the pages to discover the ending. I'm looking forward to my next read by Lucinda Riley.
    Copygirl More than 1 year ago
     don't usually read books that deal with WWII but I didn't realize this one did until I was well into it. It begins in 1999 and only segues to the 1940s after you are totally invested in the wonderful characters. Learning about the women who served in the British SOE as secret agents in Paris was fascinating, but the story never bogged down with the history. I thought I had figured out the story's mystery, but as with any good story, I was totally wrong. The characters are richly drawn, and I found myself encouraged and exasperated by them just as complex as people in real life.
    Nitereader9 More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the historical information in this book and the writing was easy to read. I flowed well. However, I felt the story line was a little to predictable and in some cases hard to take. The beginning where the heroine falls in love with the handsome stranger was just too quick to be believable. If you're looking for a light bit of reading for a few cold nights this is a good choice but it's not one I would reread or say "I loved it".
    RonnaL More than 1 year ago
    In these days when so many people want to discover more about their families, Lucinda Riley has written a beautifully intriguing fictional story of one woman's journey to find out more about herself, as the only remaining heir of the renown de la Martinieres family in France.    Emily de la Martinieres has just watched her mother die, leaving Emily with no family, but a huge chateau that is in need of much repair.  She also has a Paris apartment and debts incurred by her mother.  Then Sebastian shows up because he's interested in purchasing one of Emily's paintings for a client of his.  Sebastian turns out to be very compassionate and helpful to Emily, and gratitude grows into romance.  Furthermore, Sebastian has relatives that knew some of Emily's relatives many years ago. And the suspense begins full force! Lucinda Riley takes the reader back in time to the final days of the Nazi occupation to tell us the story of how Sebastian and Emily's relatives became involved in each other's lives.  This story of Constance, one of Churchill's Special Operations Executive, becomes a harrowing tale in itself.  As Constance is cut off from her resistance group, she finds herself in a close knit family even more dangerously involved with the Nazi forces.  The more the story went back and forth between these families, the more I NEEDED to know how all these people affected each other.  Sometimes stories that go back and forth in time can become confusing, but Riley shows has this writing technique should be done, deftly building suspense with each change. The characters drew me into their lives as though they were truly real people.  My heart went out to both Emily and Constance, with the twist at the book's end filling me with a great joy, sadness, and satisfaction.  Superb writing of a superb family story!! Please keep them coming Lucinda Riley!
    Schmooby-Doo More than 1 year ago
    Even though some of the plot was predictable (which is why 4 instead 5 stars), I really enjoyed this. A story that jumps between 1999 and World War 2, I found the author's grasp of history to be very good. Her character development was very good. One of the characters was trained by the British SOE and so was my dad (an American WW2 vet who went to France) so I personally found this very interesting! Some of the plot may seem far-fetched but from the books I've read (and the veterans I've been able to talk to about this) about covert ops in France, it's pretty much on the mark. I'd really recommend this book.
    Christmas0 More than 1 year ago
    Lucinda Riley is now a "go to" author for me. The Lavender Garden was a very good read and the story had unexpected twists and turns. It was a delightful summer read.
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    I simply loved the book. World War II, France, and present, all wrapped up in wonderful characters, a chateau, and ending that ties up everything.
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    Wonderful story!
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read one book after another, so don't remember how I became so lucky to read Lucinda Riley's first book, The Orchid House, but I must have seen it on the best seller list. It was so beautifully written and satisfying that I wasted no time in securing her second book, Girl on the Cliff. That, too, was easy to read and so enjoyable. Next I had to have her third book, The Lavender Garden which I also highly recommend. Her books are very difficult to put down. I eagerly await her fourth novel on March 18, 2014, when The Midnight Rose is promised.
    capeto2 More than 1 year ago
    I can not say enough about this book. For starters, I couldn't put it down. I love stories that jump back and forth between time. I am not sure I have ever read a book that I had so much hate towards a character. Lucinda Riley did an excellent job of making you care of the characters, good or bad. I am a big Kate Morton fan and Lucinda Riley was suggested to me as a result of that and I would recommend this to anyone else. Great read!
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    gaele More than 1 year ago
    I had high hopes for this book from the description: a search of family history to define and refine your view of the present and your definition of self has great potential.  Told in two timelines of present and past, the correlations and ultimate interrelation of the past and present begin to take shape and provide the very modern Emilie with answers and situations she never could have imagined.  It wasn’t until the book was finished and I was trying to gather my thoughts for review that I found the disconnection I felt towards Emilie fit her personality and the tone of her search. She is a reserved and often removed young woman, her version of self-preservation in her dealings with her mother.  With the advent of her mother’s death, and her inheriting the family chateau and vineyards, her beliefs about her family and a hidden relative unlock a series of questions that need answering.   Simultaneously, there is the story of Constance, a British operative with the SOE, who takes refuge at the de la Martinières chateau.  From here the dual approach of courting the Nazi’s for information while providing information to the French Resistance while trying to remain separate from the often-traitorous behaviors is detailed with clever storytelling and insertion of fact and fiction to provide a tension in that storyline that was as unexpected as it was clever.  By the end of the story, Emilie has many of her answers, and the reader is able to find the connections that seem more linear than originally thought.  Although some of the conclusions seemed to be glossed over and conveniently solved and sorted, and there were far too many coincidental events that defied belief, the story was beautifully told.  I received an eBook from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.