This book (at the time of reading available as ebook only) was a shot in the dark for me. I usually like thrillers, science fiction, spy novels etc but wanted something completely different for a change of pace, less intense. This was certainly a change of pace! It’s like a lazy Sunday afternoon read, extremely undemanding yet holds your attention (well it held mine). It is very easy to read, written largely in fairly short sentences but avoids being too stop/start.
My one criticism is that for maybe the first half of the book, nothing very much actually happens. The illegal gardener of the title is Aaman, who has travelled illegally from Pakistan in hope of earning money to buy his village a tractor so they can be self-sufficient. He is picked by Juliet as her labourer. She has come to live in a tiny Greek village from England. She buys a run down house which she needs help renovating, thus the need to employ someone to help. For much of the book, the plot really is as simple as Aaman working in Juliet’s garden, Juliet speaking on the phone to friends and family back home, and in between they both try to figure each other out culturally as the back story of each character is gradually (almost too gradually) revealed. We move between the hardship of Aaman’s illegal immigrant life and Juliet’s more privileged background. Both carry emotional baggage.
My one gripe with this book remains that although it’s well written and easily readable, not alot actually happens for some time. The conundrum lies in the fact that I still found myself reading. I don’t have a huge amount of patience for books where little is happening yet something about this one kept me interested. I confess there did come a point, from about half way through, when I was tempted to give up, but at that point (just in the nick of time) something happens to Aaman (I won’t spoil it, suffice to say it’s to do with his illegal status), which forces Juliet to examine her own feelings and she takes on the responsibility of ‘saving’ Aaman. For me the story starts moving again from this point.
The relationship between Juliet and Aaman is almost reminiscent of Remains of the Day in that there is clearly a growing underlying romantic tension but neither party is bold or brave enough or ready, to act on that. I was a trifle disappointed that when Aaman returns to his homeland at the end, everything seems to be tied up very neatly, maybe too much of a fairytale ending. But I’m probably nit-picking. It’s a good read and well worth getting if you want a change of pace, because it’s certainly undemanding. The author has huge potential and if she keeps writing and developing like this then I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her name on a future Man (or Woman) Booker list! If you want an undemanding book that’s not too deep but still highly readable (and if you can be a little patient till half way through) then you’ll like this.
PS. Sara Alexi has since published (ebook) the second and third in her Greek Village series, called Black Butterflies and The Explosive Nature of Friendship respectively.
Thanks for reading.