Willett, Marcia The Sea Garden

ISBN 13: 9780552164542

The Sea Garden

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9780552164542: The Sea Garden
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Three generations. One heartbreaking secret. And pasts about to be uncovered.

Jess Penhaligon is on her way to Devon to receive an award for her botanical painting. Hosting her will be Kate, who gladly welcomes her into her home. Jess's own family fell apart several years ago, so she is grateful for Kate's friendliness -- and her close unit of extended family and friends, who embrace Jess just as warmly. 

As this group begins reminiscing on their pasts and sharing their stories with Jess, it becomes apparent that her family history may be linked with theirs. Long-buried secrets from past generations begin to be uncovered -- but at what cost have they been kept hidden?

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About the Author:

MARCIA WILLETT's early life was devoted to the ballet, but her dreams of becoming a ballerina ended when she grew out of the classical proportions required. She has always loved books, and a family crisis made her take up a new career as a novelist -- a decision she never regretted. She lives in a beautiful and wild part of Devon.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



Journeys: all her life she’s loved journeys. She climbs onto
the train, squeezes her way past other travellers, checking
her ticket against the labels on the seats, and swings her
small case onto the luggage rack. The middle-aged couple
in the opposite seats smile at her as she slides in next to the
window, and she smiles back but hopes they won’t want to
talk to her – not just yet. First she needs to settle into the
feel of the journey, waiting for the sudden jolt as the train
starts to move, experiencing the sensation that the station,
the whole of the city, is slipping away behind her.

As Jess looks out at the people on the platform she
remembers riding in the back of the car as a small child, in
her little seat, heading out to the seaside and, years later,
when she was fetched from boarding school for an exeat
or the holidays, being allowed to sit beside the driver –
usually Mum, because Daddy was away with his regiment.
That childish sense of excitement at the prospect of
travelling is just as fresh today.

Outside the window a girl in her early teens is saying
goodbye to her parents: her small sweet face shows a
mixture of excitement and vulnerability. She is pretending
a bravado she does not quite feel: yes, she tells them, she
has her ticket; yes, she has her mobile. She displays them
again with an exaggerated show of patient resignation that
does not for a moment deceive her parents. Her father
leans to hug her and Jess sees his expression of love and
anxiety, and she is suddenly filled with a familiar sense of

It is eight years since her own father was killed on
deployment in Bosnia but the loss is just as great: she
still misses that particular kind of loving anxiety that her
lucky friends take for granted. She misses his humour, his
directness, the deep-down certainty that he was on her

‘Your mum is such a strong woman,’ people tell her. ‘So
brave.’ And yes, Mum is both strong and brave but, when
she married her diplomat lover a year later and moved
to Brussels, Jess knew that the first part of her own life
was finished: childhood was over. Then started the years
of catching the Eurostar to Brussels; of spending holidays
at the smart f lat near the EU buildings which, even now,
doesn’t feel remotely like home. Her mother is involved
in entertaining, international politics, new friends; it’s a
world away from the army and married quarters. Slowly
Jess has learned that she must forge her own way. She
worked hard at school to get a place at Bristol University
to study botany, made new friends; but she missed the
underpinning security of her father’s love, of a sense of
support, of family.

Now that she is older she realizes that part of the joy
of travelling these days is because journeys allow her to
postpone decisions and free her from anxiety about the
future. Just for this time she can put life on hold and exist
wholly in the moment.

At last the train is pulling out of Temple Meads, gathering
speed, and Jess holds her breath; her happy anticipation
returns. She feels as if she is embarking on her most
important journey so far: leaving university, heading for
London and an unrevealed future.

The couple sitting opposite are already unpacking
food – cartons and packages and Tupperware boxes – as
if they fear they might die of starvation between Bristol
and London. Now that she looks at them more closely she
sees a resemblance between them: the pouched cheeks
and round, solid bodies remind her of Tweedledee and
Tweedledum. They spread the feast out on the table between
them and the woman looks questioningly at Jess as
if she is considering offering her sustenance.

Jess feels much too excited to be hungry. She wants to
say: ‘I’ve won an award. A really important one. The David
Porteous’ Botanical Painting Award for Young Artists. I’m
going to London to collect it. Isn’t it amazing?’

But she doesn’t say it lest they think she’s boasting –
or a bit mad. Instead she stares out of the window and
wonders how well she’s done in her finals and what kind
of degree she might get. The Award – she can’t control a
little bounce in her seat at the thought of it – comes with
a cheque for ten thousand pounds.

Everyone – even her mother and stepfather – is really
impressed with this. She regards it as a breathing space, a

chance to see whether she might now pursue a career as
an artist rather than her former plan to teach. Her stepfather,
however, is still of the opinion that she should get
straight on with her teacher training. ‘You can paint in
your spare time,’ he tells her, as if her painting is just a
hobby, something she can do on the side. When she tries
to explain her passion for it he reminds her how Anthony
Trollope wrote all his books after a hard day’s work at the
Post Office. Her stepfather is prosy and didactic, and she
wants to scream at him. Her mother always looks anxious
but rather stern at these times of confrontation, which
happen more frequently since Jess left school, and Jess
knows that she will not be on her side.

‘I think you should listen to him, Jess,’ she says, irritated
by the possibility of argument and the disruption of carefully
managed peace in this very controlled environment.
‘He hasn’t got where he is today . . .’

And Jess listens politely to him – reminded inevitably of
the character in that Reggie Perrin T V programme: ‘Am I
right or am I right!’ – and then does her own thing anyway.
In this case she’s considering taking a year out to
build on this amazing achievement.

Even the sight of Tweedledum and Tweedledee munching
their way steadily through sandwiches, pies and chocolate
snacks doesn’t spoil her absolute joy in this moment. Her
thoughts rest anxiously upon the new dress packed in
the bag on the rack above her head – is it suitable for a
presentation? – and on the telephone conversation she had
with Kate Porteous, David Porteous’ widow. Kate sounded
friendly, enthusiastic about the Award, looking forward to
meeting her, and Jess is grateful for the phone call.

‘Let’s meet up before the presentation,’ Kate suggested.
‘Why don’t we? Or will you be too busy with your family?’

‘No,’ Jess answered, slightly embarrassed. She has no
close family on hand to offer support or encouragement
or share her joy: no siblings or cousins; her only
surviving grandparent lives in Australia. And she doesn’t
want to go into details about Mum being too busy with
some diplomatic function to be able to get over for the
presentation. ‘But two friends from uni will be at the

‘Great. Look, I’ll give you my address. David’s daughter
kept his studio and she lets me use it when I’m in London.
I was his second wife, you see. When are you planning to
travel? I’m coming up from Cornwall the day before . . .’

They talked for a little longer and so the arrangement
was made. Jess would meet Kate at David’s studio – his
actual studio, where he’d done most of his work – and
then they’d go out for supper and talk about what life was
like with the great artist. It is the icing on the cake. Jess
bites her lip to prevent herself from grinning madly with
sheer pleasure at the prospect of it all.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are now slaking their
joint thirsts with fizzy drinks in cans; squeezed together,
they perspire and shift uncomfortably. Jess sits back in her
corner and watches the countryside sliding past beyond
the window. The journey has begun.

At much the same time, Kate’s train from Cornwall passes
across the Bolitho Viaduct, and she sees a young woman
and two small boys in the field below. They are standing
in a row, staring upwards, waving furiously at the train.

Seized by an impulse, she leans forward and waves back.
The small boys jump about, waving with both hands, and
she hopes they have seen her and redoubles her efforts.

She sinks back in her seat, aware of the quizzical glance
of the man opposite. He takes a newspaper from his briefcase
and she is relieved. She doesn’t want to get into a
conversation, to explain her actions. Instead her mind
turns to the past, towards picnics and outings when her
twin boys were small: treks over Dartmoor, afternoons
on the beach. In these memories it is always just the three
of them: she and Guy and Giles. Even in the pre-divorce
memories Mark is rarely with them. His submarine would
have been at sea, showing the f lag abroad. Then after the
divorce, years later, when Guy and Giles were at university,
there was David with whom she shared fifteen happy
years between her house on the edge of Tavistock and
David’s studio in London. She met artists, photographers,
actors, enjoyed first nights, private exhibitions, studio
parties: it was a world away from the nav y and married

And now Guy and Giles are married with children of
their own, and David is dead – and she is on her way
to London to meet Jess Penhaligon, who has won his
Botanical Painting Award.

‘Not related to the actress?’ asked Kate, to whom the
name sounds familiar, and Jess, sounding puzzled, said
no, there were no actresses in the family so far as she

It’s rather sad, thinks Kate, that Jess has no family coming
to the ceremony. It was clear that she didn’t want to talk
about this, although when Kate said she was travelling

up from Cornwall Jess said: ‘Cornwall? My father’s family
came from Cornwall. My grandfather was in the nav y. Do
you live there?’

Kate explained that, after David died, she’d sold the
house in Tavistock and had been renting a friend’s cottage
on the north coast of Cornwall for the last three years.
They talked about what it was like to be married to an
artist, and how difficult it was to make a living, and Jess
said proudly – though rather shyly – that she had a new
ambition: to be acknowledged by the Society of Botanical
Artists. Kate smiles to herself as the train speeds towards
Plymouth. It is a huge aspiration, but Jess might just make

As the man opposite turns the pages of his newspaper,
and the refreshment trolley comes clattering along, some-
thing that Jess has said niggles at the back of Kate’s mind.
It keeps niggling whilst she asks for coffee and thinks
about the cottage she’s buying in Tavistock. She has been
persuaded that she should get back into the market while
the prices are low, and she knows it’s sensible, but she’s
not certain she wants the responsibility of buying to let,
and she can’t decide whether she wants to move back to
Tavistock. She likes living on the north coast, on the sea’s
doorstep, and within walking distance of the writer Bruno
Trevannion – landlord, friend, lover.

Her friendship with Bruno has been very important
during these last few years, since David died and Guy
moved to Canada with his little family to work with his
father in his boatyard. She misses Guy and Gemma and
their young boys, worried that their relationship – already
shaky when they moved – might have grown worse with

Gemma so far from home and depending on two such
undemonstrative men for company. Her own marriage
foundered on Mark’s lack of warmth, his detached
indifference and bitter tongue, and though Guy is not
exactly like his father there are enough similarities for
Kate to fear that history might repeat itself.

She sips the coffee, thinks about Jess again. As the
train rumbles its way slowly across Brunel’s iron bridge
Kate gazes down towards the Hamoaze, where little sails
f lit to and fro and the ferry plies between Torpoint and
Devonport. Turning to look the other way, beyond the road
bridge, she sees the familiar imposing façade of Johnnie
Trehearne’s manor house, set on the banks of the Tamar,
and suddenly she makes the connection with the niggling
thought in the back of her mind and Jess Penhaligon.
Kate remembers Jess saying, ‘My father’s family came
from Cornwall. My grandfather was in the nav y,’ and she
wonders if Jess’s grandparents might be Mike and Juliet
Penhaligon. Forty years ago Mike was a submariner, like
Mark, and a favourite with the Trehearnes. Old Dickie
Trehearne was Flag Officer Submarines, back then, and
the parties at the elegant old house above the Tamar were
legendar y.

All the young cadets knew Al and Johnnie Trehearne.
For centuries the Trehearnes had been sailors, traders,
merchantmen, and Dickie and his sons followed in
the tradition by joining the Royal Nav y. When he was
knighted, Dickie threw a wonderful party that spilled out
of the house and into the sea garden. It lasted until the
early dawn. Kate sighs, remembering: such an evening
it had been. Leaning forward to catch another glimpse

of the house, she sees the shadows from her past: young
officers in uniform, girls in long dresses. She feels the
sharp twisting pain of nostalgia; names echo like a roll call
and she murmurs them under her breath: Al and Johnnie
Trehearne, Mike Penhaligon, Freddy Grenvile . . .

On that Saturday of the party, all those years ago, she
travelled up to Plymouth on this same railway line from
Penzance, feeling shy; even awkward. She’d hesitated
about accepting the invitation.

‘Don’t start dithering,’ Cass had warned her. ‘I know
Mark’s not invited but that’s because he’s not part of the
Trehearnes’ in-crowd. So what? You’re not engaged to him
yet. Good grief, you only met him a few weeks ago. Come
and enjoy yourself. They always need extra girls and it’s
a really big party. Dickie Trehearne’s just been promoted
to Flag rank and knighted, and he’s invited loads of young
officers. You’ll adore Johnnie Trehearne. You met him at
the Summer Ball. Remember? Well, anyway, Tom and I
are going and I know you’ll just love it down there on the

Beautiful, blonde, naughty – Cass was her closest
friend. Five years together at boarding school on the
north Somerset coast had created a strong bond, and both
girls were determined that the friendship would survive
beyond school. Now Cass had met a young naval officer,
Tom Wivenhoe, and was falling in love with him, she was
determined that Kate should be part of the naval scene,
too. It was because of Cass that Kate had been invited to
the Summer Ball at Dartmouth a few weeks earlier – and
now to the Trehearnes’ party.

As she made that summertime journey from St Just,
Kate wondered if Cass was already regretting introducing
her to Mark. Tom and Mark were in the same hous...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781250046345: The Sea Garden: A Novel

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ISBN 10: 1250046343 ISBN 13: 9781250046345
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014

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Bantam, 2012

9781471330889: The Sea Garden


9781471330896: The Sea Garden


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