The Orchid House, by Jane Sheridan Reviewed

Orchid House
“Orchid House at Xcaret” by wallygrom is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Developments in the lives of three friends, Ginny, Bella and Leila, challenge them and their friendships. Their boys are all away in boarding school, Ginny and David are on holiday in Devon. Ginny hopes the weekend will rekindle the spark in their marriage — perhaps the vastness of the landscape surrounding Brent Tor will make their own problems seem small in comparison.

The orchids Ginny so lovingly cultivates in her conservatory, dubbed the Orchid House, become a metaphor for the one-sided devotion she has lavished on her marriage, the lights tucked in among the flowers represent her hope of something new. David knows he’s been deficient and he feels guilty about it, this guilt translating into churlishness rather than affection.

Bella in Sandwich is trying to escape her tyrannical husband, Steve. A new friendship with Ginny is a ray of sunshine in her life of fear and bruises. She keeps a secret diary. With Ginny away in Devon, she goes alone to join the group canvassing for the election.

David comes across a young girl, Grace, trapped by boulders in the freezing river, and is unable to rescue her until the helicopters arrive, the incident seeming to mirror his own inability to rescue his marriage. He comes home traumatised. Ginny sees that they are worlds apart. She is ready for a change, to go back to college to study landscape gardening. A new woman at David’s work is flirting with him.

Bella comes home from canvassing ‘late’ and Steve roughs her up, again. After the rescue of the young girl, Ginny now has to rescue Bella. Steve is made redundant due to ‘misconduct’, and Bella realises she needs to get away. Ginny’s friend Leila is a legal advocate and helps Bella. Leila has a new boyfriend, Matt, and he’s not Hindu.

Ginny hosts a dinner party including Bella and Steve, Leila and Matt and a couple from David’s work. Unsurprisingly, it is a difficult evening, and eventually, everything kicks off in the Orchid House.

This is a tale of female empowerment, and most of the men in this story are right bastards—well, Matt is an angel—but I kind of wish they had been treated more sympathetically. Sure, men have affairs; sure, men beat their wives. Yes, we women can survive, and that’s great, but is it really all to do with them being bastards? Or is there some underlying sociological reason we could understand and thus do something about? We begin to understand David when we experience his anguish over not being able to save Grace. However, we never have an inkling of empathy for Steve.

It’s well written, with passable editing, and the plot is well structured. There is a happy ending to look forward to; the women look to the future and maybe the promise of new men in their lives.