From beloved New York Times bestselling author Lucinda Riley, a “sweeping, poignant saga that will enthrall fans of The House at Riverton, Rebecca, and Downton Abbey” (Shelf Awareness).
Spanning from the 1930s to the present day, from the Wharton Park estate in England to Thailand, this sweeping novel tells the tale of a concert pianist and the aristocratic Crawford family, whose shocking secrets are revealed, leading to devastating consequences.
As a child, concert pianist Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the grand estate reminiscent of Downton Abbey where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to this tranquil place. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation.
When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed the estate. Their search takes them back to the 1940s when Harry, a former heir to Wharton Park, married his young society bride, Olivia, on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt for generations to come.
This atmospheric story alternates between the magical world of Wharton Park and Thailand during World War II. Filled with twists and turns, passions and lies, and ultimately redemption, The Orchid House is a beautiful, romantic, and poignant novel.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Elsie nodded. “I’m warning you, it might take me some time to remember, but—well now, I suppose this story starts with me, when I was learning to be a lady’s maid in 1939, up at the Big House. You wouldn’t have recognized Wharton Park, Julia. The whole place was so alive, buzzing with the Crawford family and their friends. They had house parties almost every week in the shooting season. And one weekend, some friends of theirs came up from London, and I was put in charge of looking after their eighteen-year-old daughter, one Olivia Drew-Norris. She was my first ‘lady.’ ” Elsie’s eyes brightened with the memories. “Oh, Julia, I’ll never forget until my dying day, the moment I walked into that Magnolia bedroom and saw her for the first time. . . .”
As Olivia entered the drawing room, she had the new and not unpleasant feeling of her arrival being noted approvingly. Lord Crawford was the first over to her.
“Olivia, isn’t it? My, my, how that Indian sun nurtures buds into full bloom. Snifter?”
“Thanks awfully,” she replied as she took a gin from the tray proffered by the hovering butler.
“Rather glad you’re my neighbor at table tonight, my dear,” Lord Crawford commented, throwing a discreet nod in the butler’s direction. He answered with an equally discreet nod back. Even if Olivia hadn’t been beside him for dinner, she was now.
“So, how are you finding Blighty?” he asked.
“It’s thrilling to see the country I’ve heard so much about,” Olivia lied smoothly.
“My dear, I’m delighted that you should take the time to visit us in our rural Norfolk backwater. You’re doing the Season, so your papa tells me?”
“Yes.” Olivia nodded.
“Jolly good show,” Christopher chuckled. “One of the best times of my life. Now, let me introduce you to my wife. She was indisposed this afternoon, but seems to have recovered for this evening.” He guided Olivia over to a slim, elegant woman. “Adrienne, do meet Olivia Drew-Norris, whom I’m sure is going to break many chaps’ hearts this Season, just like you did years ago.”
Adrienne, Lady Crawford, turned toward Olivia and extended her delicate white hand, and in a parody of the male handshake, their fingers touched.
“Enchantée,” said Adrienne, smiling at her approvingly. “You are indeed a heartbreaker.”
“It’s awfully kind of you to say so, Lady Crawford.” Olivia was beginning to feel like a prize heifer being paraded around a showground, waiting to be judged. She hoped this wasn’t a precursor of the Season to come.
“Please, you must call me Adrienne. I am sure we will be great friends, n’est-ce pas?”
Lord Crawford looked down fondly at his wife. “Good show, good show. I’ll leave Olivia in your capable hands, my dear. Perhaps you can give her a few tips.” He strode off to welcome two new arrivals.
Olivia took the moment to enjoy Adrienne’s own beauty. Although mature, in her early forties at least, Adrienne had the body of a slim young girl. And a beautifully sculpted face, with high, chiseled cheekbones underneath a flawless, ivory skin. Her quintessential femininity reminded Olivia more of a delicate Indian maharani, rather than the usual female English aristocrat, built as they were to withstand the harshness of the British weather, with wide hips to engender the brood of children they needed to continue the family line.
Adrienne was so elegant, so fragile, Olivia felt she would be more suited to a salon in Paris than a drafty English country house. Indeed, Olivia’s mother had told her that Adrienne was French. Judging by the way she wore what was a simple black cocktail dress, adorned only with a string of creamy pearls, she had the effortless chic of her native land.
“So, Olivia, you are back in this dreadful country, with its filthy weather and its lack of natural sunlight, n’est-ce pas?”
Adrienne stated this as a matter of fact and Olivia was taken aback by her bluntness. “I am certainly finding the change is taking rather a lot of getting used to,” she answered as diplomatically as she could.
Adrienne’s tiny hand rested on hers. “Ma chérie, I too was brought up in a place full of warmth and light. When I left our château in the South of France to come here to England, I did not think I could bear it. You are the same. I can read how much you miss India in your eyes.”
“I do,” Olivia whispered.
“Well, I can only promise you it will get easier.” Adrienne gave an elegant shrug. “Now, I must introduce you to my son, Harry. He is of your age and will keep you company while I play the hostess parfaite. Pardon, chérie, I will go find him and bring him to you.”
As she watched her hostess glide across the room, Olivia felt disarmed by Adrienne’s empathetic assessment. She was, on such occasions, used to only making small talk, never delving below the surface to discover more. Any form of inner thoughts—or worse, emotions—was frowned upon by British society. That much she had learned from the club in Poona. Her conversation with Adrienne, albeit short, had comforted her. She allowed herself a secret smile.
Harry had been ordered by his mother to go and keep the young “Indian” girl company. Dutifully, he made his way toward her across the room. A few paces away from her, he saw her lips open wide as she smiled.
Her cool, blonde beauty was suddenly animated, filled with a radiance beneath her creamy skin. Harry, not usually particularly aware of the physical charms of women, realized she was what most of his fellow officers would term a stunner.
He approached her. She saw him and said, “You must be Harry, sent to make polite conversation with me by your mother.” Her turquoise eyes were filled with amusement as she spoke.
“Yes. But I assure you, it will be my pleasure.” He glanced at her empty glass. “May I find you another drink, Miss Drew-Norris?”
“That would be just the ticket, thank you.”
Harry summoned the butler, and as Olivia placed her empty glass on the tray and took a fresh one, she said, “I do apologize if you think me forward. I don’t mean to be. I feel rather sorry for you, that’s all, having to speak to endless people you’ve never met before.”
Olivia was surprised at her boldness and blamed the particularly potent gin. She looked at Harry, “handsome” Harry, as Elsie had described him, and decided that Elsie was right. Harry had garnered the best physical qualities of both his parents; he had the height of his father and the fine bone structure and luminous brown eyes of his mother.
“I can assure you, Miss Drew-Norris, coming to talk to you isn’t a chore. You are, at least, under the age of seventy, which always helps. And, to be frank, around these parts, pretty unusual.”
Olivia laughed as Harry responded to her glibness. “Touché, although wearing that dinner suit, you could be taken for your father.”
Harry shrugged good-naturedly. “Why, Miss Drew-Norris, I do believe you are making fun of me. Do you not realize that war is coming to these fair isles and we must all make some sacrifices? For me, that’s wearing my father’s hand-me-down suit, even if it is three sizes too big for me.”
Olivia’s face darkened. “Do you really believe there will be war?”
“Without a doubt.” Harry nodded.
“I agree, but Daddy refuses to countenance it.”
“I’m sure that after a day’s shooting with my father, he may well have begun to.” Harry raised his eyebrows.
“I very much doubt that Herr Hitler can be pacified,” sighed Olivia. “He’s intent on world domination, and his youth movement seems to be as passionate as he is.”
Harry stared at her in surprise. “If I may say so, Miss Drew-Norris, you seem awfully well informed. Rather unusual in a young lady.”
“Do you find it unbecoming, women discussing politics?”
“Not at all. As a matter of fact, I find it extremely refreshing. Most girls simply aren’t interested.”
“Well, I was fortunate to be tutored in India by a man who believed women had as much right to an education as men.” Olivia gazed past him, her eyes suddenly sad. “He brought the world alive for me and made me aware of my relevance in it.”
“Gosh, your chap sounds wasted in Poona. Wish I’d had that kind of inspiration at Eton. Couldn’t wait to finish and get out of the damned place.” Harry lit a cigarette, fascinated. “And will you be taking your education further?”
Olivia shook her head ruefully. “I can’t imagine what Mummy and Daddy would say if I suggested it. They would be horrified: ‘What! A bluestocking in the family?!’ No, I’m to be married off, assuming someone will have me, that is.”
Harry looked at her with genuine admiration. “Miss Drew-Norris, I assure you that will present no problem at all.”
She glanced up at him. “Even if it’s not what I want?”
Harry sighed as he stubbed his cigarette out into a nearby ashtray. “It occurs to me that most of us don’t have what we want. But do try not to be too downhearted. I believe there are changes coming, especially for women. And perhaps the only advantage of the prospect of war is that it will alter the status quo even further.”
“I can only hope it does. And what of you?” Olivia asked, suddenly remembering that the golden rule, taught from the cradle, was never to dominate the conversation, especially with a gentleman.
“Me?” Harry shrugged. “I’m a mere soldier, on leave at present, but I fear not for long. We’ve just received orders to double the numbers in my new battalion, recruiting through the Territorial Army.”
“I find it quite impossible to understand how life here can go on as normal.” Olivia indicated the other members of the drinks party, guffawing loudly at some joke.
“Well, it’s the British spirit, isn’t it? The world may be coming to an end, but in houses such as these, everything goes on as it always has done. And in some respects, I thank God for it.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.”
“Well, Miss Drew-Norris,” said Harry, “it’s been a pleasure. By the way, mind the shot in the pheasant. Cook’s not terribly careful.” He winked at her. “Perhaps we’ll meet again before you leave.”
Olivia spent dinner responding to Lord Crawford’s dreadful jokes and behaving like the young lady she had been brought up to be. She risked the odd glance down the table at Harry, who she could see was doing his duty too, entertaining the wife of the army major. Later, as the men retired to the library and the women to the drawing room for coffee, Olivia feigned tiredness and excused herself.
Adrienne appeared by her side just as she was mounting the stairs. “Ma chérie, are you ill?” she asked with concern.
Olivia shook her head. “No, just a headache, really.”
Adrienne held her by the shoulders and smiled. “It is this cold English weather that has chilled your tropical bones. I will ask Elsie to relight your fire and bring you some cocoa, and we will see you tomorrow. Perhaps you will take a walk with me in the garden and I can show you something that might remind you of home.”
Olivia nodded, appreciating Adrienne’s genuine concern. “Thank you.”
“Je vous en prie. You enjoyed speaking to my son, Harry?”
“I did, awfully, thank you.” Olivia could feel the heat rising in her cheeks and hoped Adrienne hadn’t noticed.
Adrienne nodded approvingly. “I knew you would. Bonne nuit, ma chérie.”
Olivia climbed the stairs wearily. She genuinely had a headache, probably brought on by her still being unused to alcohol, but more important, she wanted time alone to think back and relish her conversation with Harry.
She changed into her nightgown in double-quick time, an art she had perfected since arriving in the cold English climate. As she hopped into bed and snuggled under the covers, there was a knock on her door.
Elsie’s bright face appeared round the door. She was holding a tray with a mug of cocoa on it. “Only me, Miss Olivia.” She walked across the room and placed the tray on the night table next to Olivia. “Made to my ma’s special recipe”—she smiled—“with a dash of brandy for the cold.”
“Thank you, Elsie.” Olivia picked up the warm cup and nursed it in her hands as she watched Elsie rekindle the fire.
“So, did you have a good evening, Miss Olivia?”
“Oh, yes, Elsie, I did.” She smiled.
Elsie turned from the fire and caught the smile. Her eyes twinkled. “And did you meet young Master Harry?”
“And what did you think of him, then?”
Olivia knew that another golden rule was not to gossip with servants, especially when not one’s own, but the temptation of discussing Harry was just too great.
“I think he was . . . a very unusual man.”
“And as handsome as I said he was?”
When Olivia didn’t answer, Elsie cast her eyes down. “Sorry, miss, I’m forgetting myself. I mustn’t ask personal questions.”
“Elsie, I promise you’re doing marvelously well. And after tomorrow, we’ll probably never see each other again. And”—Olivia took a deep breath—“if you want to know the truth, I thought Harry was . . . a darling!”
Elsie clasped her hands together. “Oh, Miss Olivia! I just knew you would! I knew you’d like each other.”
Olivia took a sip of her drink. “Elsie, this is the finest cocoa I’ve ever tasted.”
“Thank you, miss.” Elsie headed for the door. “I’ll be here in the morning to draw back your curtains. Sleep tight.”
When Elsie had left the room, Olivia lay back on the soft pillows sipping the cocoa. Then she closed her eyes and began to relive her conversation with Harry from start to finish.
© 2011 Lucinda riley
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Orchid House includes discussion questions that are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
1. How does the myth of the black orchid at the beginning of the book contribute and add to your understanding of the novel’s meaning?
2. At the start of the book, Julia is suffering from a tragic loss. Do you think her grief is sympathetically portrayed?
3. The class structure during the Second World War plays a major part in the plot. How do you feel the war changed the relationships between master and servant?
4. How do you feel the exotic settings of Thailand, and Wharton Park in the English countryside, contribute to the novel’s atmosphere?
5. One of the main themes of the novel is duty versus love. Do you feel that Harry made the right decision?
6. The Orchid House has a dual narrative, set in past and present. Discuss and compare the lives of Olivia and Julia. Do you think the modern woman’s comparative freedom has made our lives happier?
7. Loyalty is another theme of The Orchid House. How did this impact the storyline? Is it always best to tell the truth, or to tell a lie to protect?
8. The Orchid House has a redemptive ending. Do you feel that this was realistic? Can the past ever be forgiven and forgotten?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There just isn't anything bad I could say about 'The Orchid House'. As a reader, I was sent on a wonderful journey of discovery with dark secrets and many twists. I don't want to give any of the story away, however, I will say that the main setting is Wharton Park, a large estate which has been in the family for centuries. In the present, the estate has been left to Kit Crawford but unfortunately has to sell it as the expense is too high to keep it. In the past, Wharton Park is at the centre of Harry and Olivia's relationship, pulled through the 2nd World War and and its future is changed for ever. This is a story of love, hope and what the war did to Wharton Park and its residents. It resembles Downton Abbey which is probably why I loved it so much. You must read this!!
Many twists and turns. Some parts I wish the main character had made different decisions but overall good book.
Loved this book! Too wordy in the middle, but really worth the read. Quite a surprise near the end.
Great Book and something that I have not done in a long time, read through and not put down. At times seemed a bit slow, but the secrets were throught provoking and kept you guessing. Recommend for someone who likes family sagas and things that resonate throught the years.
This novel truly took you back to the days of WW II. The characters were well developed and the story was very believable. I would highly recommend this novel for someone who likes to sit back on a rainy afternoon and immerse themselves in another time and other people's lives.
I absolutely loved this book, couldn't put it down! I highly recommend it, especially if you like historical fiction. And just when you think you have it all figured out, the author throws in a plot twist that keeps you wanting more. I was looking for an author that would compare to Kate Morton. If you like Kate Morton books you will love this book!
Every so often a book comes along that is so lyrically and beautifully written, that it changes you a bit. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley is one of those novels. Taking the reader on an unforgettable journey through England, Thailand, and France, The Orchid House will make readers question how far they’d be willing to go for true love. World renowned pianist Julia Forrester has returned to her home in England to mourn the loss of her young son and husband in a tragic car accident. While home she visits Wharton Park, the estate in which her grandparents worked as servants in the 1930′s. While visiting, she is reintroduced to Kit Crawford, the current Lord of the manor, and long ago childhood friend. During Kit’s renovations of her grandparents cottage on the estate, he finds a diary that chronicles time spent in the Changi POW camp in Singapore during World War II. When Julia approaches her grandmother to find out whether or not the diary belonged to her grandfather, she is treated to a tale of love, betrayal, deceit, and loss that in its own way helps to begin her own healing process. We come to find out the diary belongs to Harry Crawford, former heir to Wharton Park. Julia’s grandmother tells her his story, stuck in a world of responsibility and expectations that he never wanted to be a part of. Throw into this his wife Olivia and her unfortunate plight of being married to a man who doesn’t love her, as well as Lydia, the beguiling woman he meets in Thailand, and you’re in for the story of a lifetime. I’m completely blown away that this is Riley’s debut novel. Her writing is so fluid and beautiful that it reads like the work of a seasoned author. She intricately and expertly weaves a plot filled with mystery and intrigue over three generations. She unveils secret after secret in perfect succession, adding to the stratagem of her storytelling. Riley’s characters are mesmerizing and captivating and are each put through their own form of hell to test what they are truly able to face. Not everyone is given happy endings, which adds a realistic feel to the story. As I said earlier, The Orchid House will definitely question how much you would be willing to give up for the love of a lifetime. Not only that, but how far and how long does the feeling of true love last in the face of a lifetime of despair? The Orchid House’s main heroine Julia is one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Her life has been filled with many tragedies that she’s let cast shadows on the relationships she holds with her family. She’s also allowed the recent tragedies of her husband and young son’s deaths darken her life into one that she doesn’t think is worth living. She lives in a constant state of pause – not moving forward, not moving backward. It’s a state that most who have lost love ones can relate too. Not only this, but she feels guilt at the thought of moving forward and at loving and living again. Julia’s story has made me realize (more than I already did) that life is precious, a gift that can be taken away at any time. Not only has Julia’s story taught me this, but Lidia’s, Harry’s, and Olivia’s stories as well, all speak to this simple teaching. I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for fans of the hauntingly beautiful gothic writing styles of Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Rachel Hore’s A Gathering Storm. (Reflections of a Book Addict)
I enjoyed this past and present revolving story with it's fairytale opening about the Prince of Siam, and its belief in the power of love. Author Lucinda Riley does a great job of leading us, and our present day protagonist Julia Forrester, a famous concert pianist, on a journey through past and present to discover just how powerful love really is. The book begins with Julia dealing with her own demons, unable to play piano because of a recent personal tragedy. We see Julia pushing family and friends aside to the extreme and only a trip to Wharton Park Estate, now set for an estate sale, sparks any kind of life in the listless Julia. Julia fondly remembers the estate as a peaceful place where her grandparents worked as servants, tending the exqusite gardens and which she often visted as a child. Here is where she runs into Kit Crawford,a cousin who is the living heir to the estate and someone Julia remembered from her childhood. A friendship begins when the two are reuinted. Kit unable to finance the large estate is staying at The Cottage, Julia's grandparents old home. In the process of doing some remodeling, he discovers the diary of a POW in Thailand from WWII hidden in the cottage. Believing it to be the diary of Julia's grandfather he gives it to her, only to discover it was Lord Harry Crawford's. As Julia begins to read the dairy we the reader are transported back in time and the historical fiction storylines are so good, I can't spoil them here. An array of characters Olivia, Harry, Elsie, Bill and more come to life and I for one couldn't be happier. Fans of Downton Abbey this is for you. Book clubs.... put this one on your list! flag
This book is contrived and disappointing. I managed to get through half of it before I decided I had to stop reading because I felt like I was getting dumber.
I loved this book. Orchids, travel, life, death, and love....and a surprise ending. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommend!
Characters were not interesting and seemed unnatural in there reactions. Some gushy dialog just did not ring true. Glsd to be finished with story.
This book started off a little slowly, but then picked up very nicely. I thought it was very well written, with lots of intertwining plots and characters. I especially liked the parts that were in Thailand. I felt like I was right there with the characters. It had a wonderfully, rich feel to it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Would highly recommend it to anyone.
I enjoyed "The Orchid House". The characters were interesting and I especially liked the flash backs to another era.
The story is intriguing. However, I found myself scanning through the uninspired and often sophomoric writing to see what happened in the end.
I hated this book. It is a romance novel trying to pass itself off as historical fiction. It was a book club pick that I could barely get through, so I skimmed the last half. The plot was predictable and I had it completely figured out. Ick, ick and ick.
Beautiful story. Well written good read!
This was an awesome read! I was immersed in the story of Kit & Julia! I could even picture myself at Wharton Park & in Thailand as their story unfolded! I loved the way the author weaved this story in with the past. The story itself kept me on my toes which is admittedly a hard thing to do. I could feel the anger, love, sadness & forgiveness of the characters. Amazing read!
This books spans many generations. It's about healing the deepest heartache and growing from it. Uplifting and interesting.
Very predictable and unrealistic.