cover image Griefwork


James Hamilton-Paterson. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-16699-1

Following his tropical tale of social chaos, Ghosts of Manila, Hamilton-Paterson's rather torpid new novel centers around a gardener's sealed-off hothouse paradise in a wintery, unnamed European city just after WWII. Leon, chief gardener of the Royal Botanical Society, has survived the war through a cloistered obstinacy, obsessively tending and communing with his 100-year-old banyans and tamarinds (which, in an odd touch, occasionally comment on the novel's action). In the unstable postwar milieu (the sort of place Hamilton-Paterson favors in his fiction), Leon's life and greenhouse are complicated by his director's idea of progress, his mute refugee assistant and a princess from the Far East who is as artificial a transplant as any here. Although the author's morally seedy landscape of shifty politics and individual despair echoes that of that of Graham Greene's The Third Man, his storytelling and characters lack the intensity necessary to cultivate tragedy. Instead, he creates a lush but ersatz atmosphere of sensuous details and mixed emotions, with botany serving both as parallel and counterpoint to European civilization's decline in the American century. (Sept.)