My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Years ago I saw the movie The Constant Gardener, and it has never left me, always floated around in the back of my brain for some reason. Then I decided to read the book (something I’ve never done after seeing the movie first), and I am now left almost speechless due to the overwhelming emotions the author stirred and deepened in me from beginning to end. The author’s writing style and the voices of his many characters are unparalleled. There is much tragedy and intrigue woven from the first page to the last, but at its heart, I view The Constant Gardener as an incredible story of love and loyalty. Actually, one of the best love stories I’ve ever read.
The story takes place over the short period of only a few weeks, but packs a punch with the telling of a love story in reverse. We come to know Tessa Quayle through, not only, Justin’s memories, but those of others, as well. Justin Quayle is a quiet, reserved man who would rather tend to his garden and play by the rules of his British post than to cause disruptions in Nairobi, or anywhere else. His wife, on the other hand, was quite the opposite with her unrepentant and vocal activism in Africa.
After her untimely and brutal death, Justin takes it upon himself to learn his wife’s secrets, by tracing and following the footsteps of her final days, meeting with her betrayers, and reconstructing the fatal information she and a friend, Arnold Bluhm, had gathered prior to their murders. He does this out of love and loyalty to Tessa. The reader learns that Justin had always stayed out of the activist part of Tessa’s life, and she had always protected him and his diplomatic career from it. They respected each other’s differences, but in the end I feel that Justin viewed this as a tragic loss, and time lost. Not only did he fail in his promise to always protect her, but he failed to really know her, completely. They were both to blame for this. And he sets out to correct that miscalculation during his final few weeks of globetrotting, as a pseudo-spy.
Justin’s journey ultimately ends where Tessa’s ended, and the reader understands this to be his intention all along: to be nearer her, to follow her behind the veil …
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