Funded partially by the National Lottery’s Arts Council, ‘The Garden’ is written by Sean Michael Wilson and illustrated by Fumio Obata.
Joanna, normally a busy, driven businesswoman lives alone and is forced to stay home after being signed off sick from work following a breakdown. Her sister suggests that she needs a calming project to help with her recovery and keep her away from her computer. With a bit of coaxing Joanna decides that a Japanese style makeover for her garden is the distraction she is looking for. Before you know it, she is in Japan studying Japanese gardening, meditation and mindfulness before returning home to complete her project.
In my opinion, its not the garden project that is the central message of the book, it is Joanna’s learning the art of mindfulness that is truly important. Her creation of the garden is about learning to slow down, seeing beauty in everyday things and connecting with nature. I imagine there are a lot of people out there right now who, thanks to lockdown, find themselves in a similar situation to Joanna - the business of life has suddenly been halted and many are looking for a project at home to give them focus. If you are in this situation then this might just be the book for you right now.
The story is told at a rapid pace, with Joanna setting off to Japan for a gardening course seemingly hours after her sister has spoken with her. The pacing raises eyebrows at other points too, such as when Joanna’s friend John suggests she puts newts in her new pond (something she is not keen on) before conveniently producing them from his car! There could be a whole new book in underworld newst dealing... However, the pace serves to condense the story into the intended single volume, so it's forgivable given that this standalone book gets the message across by the final page. Although Joanna is the key character and the story is very much a solo journey, there is an interesting dynamic in her relationship withth eolder and more experienced John, who has both contrasting views on the world and life experience.
There is a calm simplicity to the illustrations in both the style and the toned-down colour palette. The characters show great expression which really help illustrate Joanna’s journey. The layout of the pages changes throughout and I felt this related well to the pacing whereby larger images were used for the calmer parts of the story as if to say ‘sit back and breath this in’ at these points, just as Joanna is doing in the story.
Mindfulness is something I have becoming increasingly interested in over the last few years and so I was the right person on our team to take a look at this one! Obviously not one for action fans, this is a passive look at self-awareness that is rare in this medium, presented beautifully in hard-back making it a lovely gift for the right person.