BOOK REVIEW: Josephine's Garden by Stephanie Parkyn

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

France, 1794. In the aftermath of the bloody end to the French Revolution, Rose de Beauharnais stumbles from prison on the day she is to be guillotined. Within a decade, she'll transform into the scandalous socialite who marries Napoleon Bonaparte, become Empress Josephine of France and build a garden of wonders with plants and animals she gathers from across the globe.

But she must give Bonaparte an heir or she risks losing everything.

Two other women from very different spheres are tied to the fate of the Empress Josephine - Marthe Desfriches and Anne Serreaux. Their lives are put at risk as they each face confronting obstacles in their relationships and in their desire to become mothers.

From the author of Into the World comes a richly imagined historical novel about obsession, courage, love and marriage.

My Thoughts:

When I was writing my novel The Wild Girl, which is set during the Napoleonic wars, I read a great deal about Empress Joséphine. She’s a fascinating woman. Born in Martinique and called Rose, her family was wealthy and owned a sugarcane plantation worked by slaves. She was sent to France as a teenager to marry a young aristocrat she had never met. Although they had two children together, Eugène and Hortense de Beauharnais, the marriage was desperately unhappy.


During the French Revolution, Rose and her husband were arrested, and he was guillotined. Rose was freed five days later, only hours before her own execution. She managed to survive as a mistress to rich and powerful men, and married the young general Napoléon Bonaparte, who ultimately crowed himself Emperor. It was he who insisted on her being called Joséphine, a name she never much liked.


Rose bought the Château de Malmaison in April 1799, when Napoléon was away fighting in Egypt, and spent a fortune restoring it. She lavished particular attention on its gardens, which she wanted to be the ‘the most beautiful and curious … in Europe’. Her rose garden was particularly exquisite (hence my interest in it), and I actually grow a sweet-scented, multi-petalled pale pink rose named ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ in my garden.


I tell you all this as a kind of background for Stephanie Parkyn’s new book, which is centred on this beautiful, exotic and very expensive garden. It begins with Rose’s release from prison and ends with her finding peace there in her later years, divorced and abandoned by the emperor.


Because I know her story so well, I was not expecting any surprises, but Stephanie Parkyn has woven a luminous, enthralling tale of love, treachery, treason and friendship out of the Empress Joséphine’s life that is full of unexpected twists and turns.

You might also like to read my review of Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn:


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Kate Forsyth
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