The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise (Hardcover)

The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise By Olivia Laing Cover Image
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An Oprah Daily Summer Reading Recommendation

A #1 Sunday Times (UK) Bestseller

Inspired by the restoration of her own garden, "imaginative and empathetic critic" (NPR) Olivia Laing embarks on an exhilarating investigation of paradise.

In 2020, Olivia Laing began to restore an eighteenth-century walled garden in Suffolk, an overgrown Eden of unusual plants. The work brought to light a crucial question for our age: Who gets to live in paradise, and how can we share it while there’s still time? Moving between real and imagined gardens, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to John Clare’s enclosure elegies, from a wartime sanctuary in Italy to a grotesque aristocratic pleasure ground funded by slavery, Laing interrogates the sometimes shocking cost of making paradise on earth.

But the story of the garden doesn’t always enact larger patterns of privilege and exclusion. It’s also a place of rebel outposts and communal dreams. From the improbable queer utopia conjured by Derek Jarman on the beach at Dungeness to the fertile vision of a common Eden propagated by William Morris, new modes of living can and have been attempted amidst the flower beds, experiments that could prove vital in the coming era of climate change. The result is a humming, glowing tapestry, a beautiful and exacting account of the abundant pleasures and possibilities of gardens: not as a place to hide from the world but as a site of encounter and discovery, bee-loud and pollen-laden.

About the Author

Olivia Laing is a widely acclaimed writer and critic. She’s the author of seven books, including The Lonely City, Funny Weather and Everybody. Her first novel, Crudo, was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller and won the 2019 James Tait Memorial Prize. Her work has been translated into twenty-one languages and in 2018 she was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction. She lives in Suffolk, UK.

Praise For…

The Garden Against Time is remarkably vulnerable in its function as a vehicle for Laing to think through the pain of others; to mend her own shortcomings and live purposively on her patch of land…Could I live this way: thoughtfully, keeping in mind the fortunes of others? Twee as it sounds, if we all did, could we make the world a better place? How exquisite to hold a book that makes me believe so.

— Jo Hamya - Financial Times

[E]ffortless lyricism…at heart, an impassioned and wide-ranging work of literary criticism…This isn’t a historical survey of gardening, much less a practical guide, so much as an inquiry into the idea of the garden—its history and poetics, its relationship to sex, imagination and power…[Laing] belongs in an as-yet-undefined and perhaps undefinable class of prose artists who blend feeling and analysis, speculation and research, wit and instruction as they track down the elusive patterns and inescapable contradictions of modern experience.
— A.O. Scott - New York Times

In one way Laing’s book is an account of restoring the garden to its glory days. This gives her the chance to write such glorious, looping sentences as 'I cut back thickets of honeysuckle and discovered astrantia, known as melancholy gentleman for its stiff Elizabethan ruffs and odd, pinkish-green livery.' But just at the point where she seems in danger of disappearing into a private dreamscape, Laing pulls up sharply to remind us that a garden, no matter how seemingly paradisical, can never be a failsafe sanctuary from the brutish world. It always arrives tangled in the political, economic and social conditions of its own making…In this book Laing perfects the methodology she deployed so skillfully in her much-loved The Lonely City and more recent Everybody, of embedding biographical detours to advance rather than merely illustrate her central argument.

— Kathryn Hughes - Guardian

Laing’s buzzing and epic The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise… is wonderfully free… and does not cater to conventional expectations. Laing seeks a communal space where we can cherish what is most beautiful about being alive.

— Jessica Ferri - Washington Post

The most delightful portions of her memoir-cum-horticultural history, The Garden Against Time, are those… reflecting on the experience of working among flowers and soil… Across eight chapters, Ms. Laing considers the contradictions of gardens, understanding them as at once “selfish and selfless, open and enclosed.”

— Angelina Torre - Wall Street Journal

[A] broad-leafed prose poem about 'the constant cycle of decay, regeneration and return in which we all play a part.' This is a beguiling book.
— Gavin Plumley - Country Life

[Laing] excelled at looking at art in The Lonely City, her meditation on urban isolation in the lives and works of American painters, and she brings the same quality of attention to [The Garden Against Time], writing about her garden with a vigor that should carry even the least green-fingered reader…a wise and enthralling book.

— Max Liu - Independent

Through deft research and her own experience in this enchanting [book]… Laing considers the loftier aspirations of gardens as paradise.
— Lauren LeBlanc - Boston Globe

A vital read in the age of climate crisis.
— Elle

[L]andscape writing so intricate and vivid that you’ll feel transported to the English countryside.
— Oprah Daily

What we need, writes Laing, is more gardens and the health and life and collective imagination they support everywhere. Echoing Victorian gardener, writer, and artist William Morris, Laing argues that 'we need to start from our contaminated present and not some future position of undiluted purity.'
— Bomb

Olivia Laing's The Garden Against Time is a close and vagrant meditation on the tended plot as real and metaphoric paradise, a potentially radical place to overwinter and come back out to hope.

— Brian Dillon - The Millions

I’ve been a fan of Laing’s since The Lonely City, a formative read for a much-younger me…so I’m looking forward to her latest, an inquiry into paradise refracted through the experience of restoring an 18th-century garden at her home the English countryside. As always, her life becomes a springboard for exploring big, thorny ideas (no pun intended)—in this case, the possibilities of gardens and what it means to make paradise on earth.

— Sophia M. Stewart - The Millions

The Garden Against Time, despite its darker subtexts, feels like a recuperative work.

— Patrick Freyne - Irish Times

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that captures so well not only the deep pleasures and satisfactions of gardening, but its near-hypnotic effect on the human body and mind.
— Observer

[Laing's] lyrical prose emphasizes the ways in which gardens connect individuals across history…leading the author to muse that her attraction to cultivating plants stems from wanting "to move into a different understanding of time: the kind of time that moves in spirals or cycles, pulsing between rot and fertility, light and darkness." This is well worth seeking out.
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

An intellectually verdant and emotionally rich narrative journey. 
— Kirkus (starred review)

A book that begins as beguiling and beautiful then flicks into the revelatory: the work of salvaging a ruined garden in Suffolk becomes a book about a different kind of salvation altogether. Her mind is so agile, so capacious, so widely ranging, so consistently surprising. If I had the means, I’d present her with large plots of land every year so that she could write books such as this again and again.
— Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others

A cumulative intellectual with a golden pen, Laing… connects collectivity with dirt, hand-building both private and generous new worlds as safe refuge and risky experiments.
— Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

Laing probes important questions about land ownership and exclusion and the human drive to create paradise on earth. All the while, her elegant prose bewitches and beguiles. A truly wonderful read.
— Sue Stuart-Smith, author of The Well-Gardened Mind

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393882001
ISBN-10: 0393882004
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 25th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English