INCEST, impotence and watersports - in the least sporty and watery sense of the word - are the themes of this historical romance: a novel whose name and synopsis might otherwise have tempted you to give it to a great aunt together with a gift pac k of M&S pot pourri.
Edward Popple, a 17th-century rose expert, sets out on a voyage of discovery, joined unexpectedly by his stowaway daughter Ros, disguised as a boy. Simultaneously, in China, the secret heir to the Ming dynasty, Prince Taizao, also a keen rose fan, sets out by sea for Rome. Both parties end up shipwrecked on the same tropical island. New roses are bred from Chinese and English stock. The stowaway daughter and rose-hobbyist Ming-heir fall in love.
It sounds romantic enough, but the sexual thrust of the first half of the book is all about Popple trying to resist the temptation to have sex with his daughter, while in China the romantic interest consists of wondering whether the sulky and impotent Ming prince is going to manage to get it up at all. What finally turns him on, on the shipwreck island with Popple's daughter, is not the meeting of true minds, or the tropical moon reflected on inky waters, it is watching her pee, and subsequently having her do it on him.
You could call the plot many things, but cliched is not one of them, and the same goes for the style. Popple's garden was "in a bowl yet not a sink". The roses were "ready with a viscous exudation in the sutures of their stigmas". A man's head was "roundand shiny as a dried red date". Round and shiny? Squashed and wrinkly, surely? The lines around the Ming prince's guardian's mouth, "tensed and relaxed like the legs of a spider …