The Botanist’s Daughter – Kayte Nunn

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for the beautiful The Botanist’s Daughter, by Kayte Nunn.

The Botanist’s Daughter takes us on an immense voyage, following two women who are centuries and oceans apart. In present day Australia, Anna is mourning the loss of her Grandmother Gus, and has somewhat lost her way in life. While renovating her late Grandmother’s house, she finds an old diary and a mysterious, beautiful box hidden in the wall. The box, which contains a sketchbook of meticulously crafted botanical drawings, a photograph dated late 1800s and a handful of seeds, which draws her, and us, into an investigation –  who did the box belong to and how did it end up in her Grandmother’s house?

The historical chapters of the book take us to Victorian England, where Elizabeth has also suffered a loss, that of her father, a botanist whose work took him on adventures to far and exotic lands. His dying wish that she continue his life’s work by voyaging to Chile in search of a rare, dangerous plant, send Elizabeth on her own dangerous quest. She leaves her sister and the restraints of her traditional life in Cornwall and sets sail on a long voyage across the ocean.

The two women’s stories are told in dual narratives with chapters alternating between Anna’s determined investigation into the mystery of the box, and Elizabeth’s adventures at sea and in new and exotic lands. Each of the narratives captured my attention – which I found to be a rare treat. So often in this sort of historical fiction, with one narrative following a contemporary time-frame and the other tracing histories of the past, I find myself much more drawn to one than the other – skimming through the pages of one to get back to the real story. That wasn’t the case here – I felt equally invested in both stories, which meant I turned through the pages of all of this book very quickly!

We switch between the two stories swiftly, as the chapters are usually pretty short – which is perhaps one of the techniques Nunn uses to keep us connected to both stories. The speed of the narratives helps them both stay fresh in your mind and from the beginning there are also similarities between the two heroines and their lives, which helps minimise any time travel sickness. Both are headstrong women who are not interested in society’s narrow expectations of them. They both have sisters who have followed more closely in the footsteps deemed appropriate for women of their time, they both have an interest in botany and both embark on voyages that take them out of their comfort zones and into new territories.

While these similarities provide the reader with some continuities, that’s not to say that the different time periods and settings lack any clarity. All the settings are extremely vivid and well researched – you get a real sense of time and place from the rugged beaches in Cornwall to the exotic valleys and mountains of Chile. As you’d expect from a novel about botany, the landscape is described beautifully and I found myself lingering over descriptions of the sights and smells of the plants and flowers. I was particularly interested in the historical view of the English traveller abroad – Elizabeth is somewhat sheltered by the ‘high-society’ she is welcomed into in Chile through her father’s connections. Although she is also introduced to a new culture, new foods, new ways of life, there were also scenes that were very Austen-esque to me, as the heroine courts gentleman admirers at grand parties and picnics.

I love books about women and therefore I really enjoyed this novel – the two female heroines were both so likeable and determined not to follow the path society had set out for them. Also want to add a shout out to Daisy, who is Elizabeth’s maid and travel companion. She is another superb female character – I would absolutely love to read more about Daisy!

The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn is out now, published by Orion Books.

Thank you to Alex Layt and Orion for inviting me to take part in this blog tour – be sure to follow the rest of the tour this month!

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