‘The Garden’ by Sarah Trounce

I remember being stunned when first reading ‘The Garden’, jolted to the point of having to pause and take a breath before continuing. It is so difficult to write about grief: so many pitfalls for even the most scrupulous writer, especially if they are attentive to the reader’s needs and wish to be generous enough to position that reader such that they do not feel overwhelmed or instructed. ‘The Garden’ is set several months after the death of its sharply realised (unnamed) narrator’s partner, John, and he floods the story with his presence — or, more accurately, the weight of his absence. 

Trounce carefully balances two initially opposing elements: the agonising and emerging unpacking of memory, and the requirement (on the part of her protagonist) to move forward and make “something admissible” of her life. The latter is sparked by a visit from John’s young son, suggested by the wife he left for our narrator and results in a sleepover that coincides with a hellish storm, one that wrecks the untended garden of the title: 

The storm deals discord. Its fluid, skilful fingers pluck conifers, fling wrought iron furniture over demolished boundaries. A flying shed is evidence of a whole nation’s timid pursuits.

“So, the ruin is coming then,” our narrator muses, as the storm hits, and one is reminded of her equally beguiling equivalent in Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond: a no less compelling voice. Again, it requires the deepest level of craft to make one’s characters so absolute, so angular. Here, they burn bright enough to crisp the page. This astonishing story ends as it begins (“In the end it is the garden that saves her”) and you apply the strongest hope for this damaged but reconstituted pair. I think Trounce is quite remarkable: an uncommonly insightful and compassionate writer, alive to the poetry of what might at first pass as simple lives. I cannot wait to see what she does next. (GK)

Published in The London Magazine, April/May 2020