The Moonlit Garden tells the stories of two women who live in different centuries and countries-yet they have a connection, a violin.
Lilly Kaiser is an antique shop owner from Germany who is dealing with the loss of her husband. She is approached by a stranger who gives her an old violin he says belongs to her. Lilly isn’t musical, and as far as she knows neither is anyone in her immediate family. She is intrigued about the violin’s original owner and sets out to solve the mystery with the help of her friend Ellen Morris and the head of a music school, Gabriel Thornton.
They discover the violin belonged to Rose Gallway, a musician of mixed English-Sumatran heritage who lived in the early 1900s and was a well-regarded performer until she suddenly disappears. Lilly, Ellen and Gabriel discover Rose’s connection to the violin and the connection between Rose, English aristocrat Paul Havenden, and another young musician, Helen Carter.
Pros: I like stories that move between the past and present. The historical setting (the Dutch and English colonial period in the 1800s and early 1900s) and locations (Germany, London, Italy and Indonesia) are interesting. I like the interaction between Lilly and Ellen, and the musical mystery adds to the story. People dealing with loss and moving on are good themes to work with. The transitions between present-day and the early 20th century are fairly smooth.
Cons: I initially did not like Rose at all. She is a very self-centered character in my opinion. I understood later that the abuse she suffered from her music teacher was a large contributing factor, but she still isn’t very likable. I didn’t like Paul either. Paul telling Rose he is engaged when he is married is reprehensible, and it is stupid of Rose to get involved with him. Of course, she didn’t know he was actually married, but she did believe he was engaged, and it’s wrong in that case too. This sort of content doesn’t make a story better. Helen comes off as being a spoiled brat too. I understand people behave selfishly and do stupid things when they are searching for happiness and fulfillment or are dealing with stressful situations, but this is not well-executed here. It’s okay for characters to be flawed, but they should have some likable qualities. The ending is kind of confusing and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. I really couldn’t figure out exactly who the original owner of the violin is supposed to be.
I should point out that The Moonlit Garden is originally in German. It can be tricky to convey meaning or concept accurately when translating from one language to another, so that may be a factor. The actual writing is good, and the descriptions of the various locations are well-done. I did like The Moonlit Garden in spite of the issues I mentioned, but it’s not a book I’d go out of my way to read again.