Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove is an absorbing tale of desire and passion amongst the exotic setting of Deia in Mallorca. Jenn is on holiday with husband Gregg and his daughter Emma, but their ritual of holidaying at Deia every year with just the three of them is about to be ruined when Emma insists that her new boyfriend Nathan must join them. Jenn and Gregg have never met Nathan before, but as soon as Jenn sets eyes on him she feels a spark and attraction there that she feels is reciprocated. Set over the course of a week, the novel follows Jenn’s relationship with Nathan as it grows dangerously sexual, and her changing connection with her husband and step-daughter.
The novel is a great holiday read but sometimes I felt like it could have been written a bit better. Though the subject matter is quite serious, the story is nevertheless interesting and atmospheric, and made me dream of sunbathing on a Spanish island somewhere.
The theme of age is really prevalent throughout the novel. Jenn is preoccupied with her aging body and continuously compares herself to Emma, whilst the fact that Nathan is so young makes Jenn feel that the affair is more her fault than his, even though it takes two people to have an affair and Nathan is the one who, towards the beginning of the novel, initiates intimacy between them.
There are some really graphic scenes in the novel which serve to further emphasise the sordid relationship between Jenn and Nathan. Although Jenn feels lust and longing towards Nathan and wants to be around him, most of the time she just feels unhappy, guilty and disgusted with herself. Their sex scenes often seem rushed, enveloped in the seediness of an affair with her step-daughter’s boyfriend.
Jenn is a tricky character to work out. She seems to really love Emma and wants what is best for her, as she has raised her from a young age, but also envies her. Her husband Gregg seems a really nice man but can seem irritatingly self-important. I felt sorry for Jenn at times but overall felt that she was very naive and rash; she must have realised that she couldn’t get away with sleeping with Nathan but she does it anyway, and you wonder how much she can really care about her family if she repeatedly breaches their trust in this way.
I don’t feel that Walsh writes amazingly throughout but despite this her description of the wealthy, exotic holiday destination jumps off the page. The Lemon Grove has many other themes that can be examined but I don’t want to reveal too much to those who haven’t read it.
I would recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a beach read which makes you think a little and consider the un-relentless pull of youth.