A story of love, war and hope symbolised by a red rose

Edie Cottingham is a girl of nineteen who is very different to her contemporaries of 1905 Ballarat, but she charms and interests Theo Hooley, who is also different. In The Art of Preserving Love, by Ada Langton, they both charm the reader.

Edie is an outspoken young woman who leads a privileged life despite its early twentieth century restrictions. One morning she wakes and notes in her notebook her plan to get married, preferably to Theo Hooley, a reserved South African veteran. She shortens her skirt, and, as usual, attends church with her mother, Lucy, father, Paul and live in maid, Beth. Her parents have been strangely preoccupied, and don’t notice her shortened skirt, but Theo does. He waylays Edie and announces his intention of asking her father for permission to marry.

That afternoon Lucy goes into premature labour and delivers a sickly girl, Grace, and later that afternoon Lucy dies. Theo realises he will have to give Edie time to grieve and is prepared to wait. His own childhood has taught him the value of patient waiting.

Initially, Edie hates the baby Grace and leaves the care of her to her father and Beth. One afternoon Grace smiles at her and Edie is committed to loving and caring for her. Every Sunday afternoon at three, Theo asks Edie to walk around the lake with him, and every Sunday afternoon she refuses. Every Sunday he leaves a red rose.

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Bantering with Beth every Sunday afternoon he explains to her how to preserve the roses. The locals follow the ritual with great interest, the children forming a Pied Piper’s following each Sunday afternoon.

Ada Langton has woven stories of love into an intriguing tale. Theo and Edie’s love story is not the only love story, nor is romantic love the only love explored. Theo and Edie’s love story does not run smoothly and there is a lot of entanglements in their, and others, stories. Ada Langton maintains a firm authorial hand on the complex strands of intertwining lives.

The chapters are carefully dated and the historical background of the period is there, not only in the fashions and attitudes, the cars, but also in political events and personalities. And the dates lead inexorably to the First World War. This background adds great depth to the story. The first chapter is Sunday 5th November 1905 and the last Sunday 10th November 1924 so the period covered is one of vast social and political change.

Ada Langton captures the personalities of the turn of the century Ballarat with great sympathy. There are those with wealth, gossiping women, hard working miners, impoverished women. None become stereotypes. The portrait of Lilly Hooley is one I found particularly well done as Theo’s mother bakes and bakes in her attempts to bring her son, Theo, a happy life.

This is an engrossing book and despite its 431 pages I read it quickly so caught up in the engaging characters and their story of preserving love in its many facets.

The Art of Preserving Love, by Ada Langton, is available in paperback or digital editions from the publisher HQ Fiction, click here for details.