Saturday, 27 February 2010

An addition to the snowdrop literature?



At the Galanthus Gala a couple of weeks I was kindly given a copy of Martin Baxendale's novel The Snowdrop Garden by the author. It is impossible to equal the blurb publicising the book on Amazon.com, from which the book is available, so I repeat it here:

"The Snowdrop Garden" is Martin Baxendale's first novel, a romantic comedy set in the enchanting, eccentric and increasingly fashionable world of snowdrop growers and collectors where (much like the crazy days of the Tulip Fever in 17th century Holland) enthusiasts will pay mad money at auction (up to GBP 200- GBP 300) for a single bulb of the latest and most desirable varieties to add to the hundreds of different snowdrops already in their collections. Some call it the White Fever; that time in January-February every year when keen snowdrop growers visit each other's gardens to compare collections, gather at special Snowdrop Lunches and Galas to admire new forms and varieties and spend silly amounts to outbid each other for the latest white-flowered novelties.One of England's biggest and most beautiful woodland snowdrop gardens faces the builder's bulldozers as elderly Lady Cherington is forced to sell up to settle her massive debts. Can young Ben, another keen snowdrop collector, help save Lady C's family home, garden and unique collection? Does his feisty new Slovak environmental-warrior wife, Katka, with her Eastern European connections, hold the answer to all their problems? Or is it her fault there are Bulgarian gangsters with big guns in the shrubbery, trampling on Lady C's favourite snowdrops? Why are there Russians with even bigger guns in the front drive? Why do they all want Lady C's smelly old husband, The Colonel? Will Katka's twins be born in hospital or an armoured personnel carrier amongst the snowdrops on Lady C's lawn, and where did Katka learn to drive an armoured car anyway?

About the Author
Martin Baxendale has been a cartoonist and writer for the last 25 years. His father is the cartoonist Leo Baxendale, famous for creating 'The Bash Street Kids' and other popular strips in 'The Beano' in the 1950s and 60s. The Snowdrop Garden is his first novel.

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Having now read this highly improbable-seeming book, what to make of it? It is certainly a curiosity. Despite the usual disclaimer about coincidental similarities, one feels it must be heavily autobiographical of either fact or fantasy, with heavy details of Slovakian cuisine and lingistics that could not be dreamt-up, for example. Into the fantasy mix are dropped some fairly substantial chunks of galanthophilia, including references to the paper "The Systematic Value of Nuclear DNA content in Galanthus by B.M.J. Zonneveld" (actually B.J.M Zonneveld, with co-authors J.M. Grimshaw and A.P. Davis - one wonders how such a mention scores in a citation assessment). Even better for the ego is the first Christmas gift the loving and attentive Ben presents to his fiancee Katka: "Katka looked a little disappointed by her first present from me, a signed copy [!] of 'Snowdrops, a Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus', the best book to date on snowdrops, illustrated with close-up photographs that I thought might help her to appreciate the differences between the many named forms." How sweet of him. At least we learn later that she has studied it well enough to be familiar with snowdrops in Lady C's collection (she must be more diligent than most of our readers).

While I can't imagine sales of The Snowdrop Garden will make Martin Baxendale's fortune, it is certain to provide a talking point at snowdrop lunches and gatherings for a year or two.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, John. Yes, the novel is indeed very heavily autobiographical, Ben being loosely based on me and Katka on my Slovak botanist/environmentalist wife.

    What the Amazon blurb doesn't, unfortunately, mention is that, in addition to being a humour writer and cartoonist, I have also been collecting and growing snowdrops for over 30 years, and my parents for almost 50 years. I have also been breeding snowdrops for the last 15 years.

    In writing the novel, I decided to combine some of my favourite things; humour, snowdrops, food and drink, and the highs and lows of (have to watch what I say here) a challenging marital relationship.

    The book may not be everyone's cup of tea, and with its rather specialised subject matter it certainly won't make my fortune, but if it makes even a few fellow galanthophiles chuckle or smile, then I'll feel it was well worth the time and effort it's taken.

    Martin Baxendale

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  2. I heard about Martin's book in the Cotswold Life and thought it ideal to sell in the shop during our snowdrop season at Painswick, particulalry as he is a local author. Martin dropped off some signed copies and I thought I would leaf through it to see what is was all about. After no more than a couple of paragraphs I was hooked and the book has become a great source of amusement amongst our staff and volunteers.

    Some of the language may be a bit fruity but that is the charm and I would strongly recommend it.

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  3. Sounds absolutely delightful! Thanks, Bobby Ward, for sharing this review!

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  4. Martin, if you see this, please get in touch. John

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