Book review: The Botanist’s Daughter

Book review: The Botanist’s Daughter

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower. 

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons. 

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile, that you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips.

“I was walking through the Botanic Gardens in Sydney with my young daughter – looking for fairies (as you do with a five-year-old). When we reached the Rose Garden – one of my favourite parts of the gardens – I noticed a large, cast-bronze sundial. As I ran my hands over the raised engravings of herbs and flowers, it was honestly as though there was a bolt from above. I just knew there was a story that involved a sundial,” says Nunn about the inspiration behind the book

“That idea stayed with me and over the coming months, I began to wonder what the story might be. I imagined a young woman, chafing against the strictures of her time, and then I began to picture a woman living in the present day, one who would have been more at home in an earlier age.

“One day, I found myself reading a newspaper story of a rare, highly poisonous plant that suddenly sprang up in an English suburban garden. The owners were mystified as to how it could have grown there until they realised that they had been leaving out seed for the birds. The plant was from South America, colloquially known as The Devil’s Trumpet and I couldn’t resist such a name! I also knew that the setting would be Cornish (where I spent many childhood holidays and a county that is known for its wonderful gardens), and Sydney, where I have lived for many years. I loved the idea of a story that spanned the world, a personal story with huge consequences for future generations of a family,” she explains.

“The Botanist’s Daughter is the story that tapped me on the shoulder on that sultry summer’s day, and I only hope I have been able to do it justice.”

Published by Hachette Australia in August 2018, the paper is AU$29.99, and eBook AU$29.99 – available online, here.



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