Call it a mistrust of popularity, or lone girl in the playground syndrome, but the knowledge that The Language of Flowers was the subject of a bidding war between nine publishers over last year does not immediately endear it to me.
What earns the publishers pennies is not necessarily what makes a good read, and in a world where X-Factor voting style reigns supreme, popularity does not always been quality. Added to this, any novel where the words flowers is used is always going to have the potential pong of schmaltz.
But this début novel from Vanessa Diffenbaugh shatters all these negative preconceptions. Protagonist Victoriahas only one true interest – floriography, the language of flowers.
It is this that has been the one constant through a maze of foster parents, care homes, broken promises, missed opportunities and fractured friendships. Victoria learns the language of flowers from the one carer who seems to be verging on becoming her mother. Throughout her life, in situations where emotions are not easily expressed, Victoria’s giving of flowers becomes an outlet for communication.
After a painful twist of circumstance, Victoria leaves the care system aged eighteen and homeless. Her passion leads her to a part-time job in a florist, and through floral interplay she meets a figure from her past who threatens to drag up a whole host of emotions – among them, love and happiness. It is this risk that Victoria must wrestle with, and the reader sees her engage with the world around her using the only means she knows how.
Weaving vine-like between past and present, the novel deals with the question of identity. Its mesmerising portrayal through romantic language of a flawed character who is sad, lonely, bitter and frustrated, but immensely likeable, is an inventive and courageous way to tackle the telling of emotions.
Rather than floral in a Laura Ashley way, the language is subtle, the different plants carefully capturing the nuances of an emotion in a way that words sometimes fail to express.
Elegant and emotive, the beauty of the natural world is combined with the gritty emotions of life to create a medium that is indistinct from the message. Like all great novels, the story is difficult to separate from the lexicon, the combined effect being one of mesmerising power.
Published in August by Pan Macmillan, you can buy the hardback for £7, or get the Kindle edition for £5.
One thought on “The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh”
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