A Globe and Mail Best Book, The Paper Garden is subtitled Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72. I am finding this book compelling and, at the same time, a tough slog. The unusual typeface doesn't help.
The author, a poet, has managed to braid together a book of biography, memoir, and art criticism. Her language is rich, and her insights intriguing.
Her subject, Mary Delany, was born into the English upper classes in 1700, and was an accomplished needlewoman. She also invented a new art form, botanical collage, using papers that she painted with watercolour and deftly cut into tiny shapes, gluing them onto a black background. Almost 1000 of these collages are in the holdings of the British Museum. Her life is undisputedly fascinating, and her triumphant achievement is a tribute to an irrepressible creativity.
Being a modernist, I find the book's focus on the complicated social constraints of Delany's times difficult to penetrate. However, fans of Jane Austin should have no trouble with this. If you'd like a taste of this book, you can sample the first chapters on the Amazon page.