14 August 2011

The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Random House. History, Adult Other. Paperback RRP $32.99

Guest Reviewer - Di Bates

The language of flowers, sometimes called floriography, was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. This is the crux upon which this unusual book is premised.

Victoria Jones has spent her childhood in foster care with a caseworker, Meredith, who cares less about her charge. Victoria’s first person account begins, when, at the age of eighteen, she is emancipated from her San Franciscan group home and enters the world without any relatives, friends or even a home. For a decade she has spent every spare moment memorising the meanings and scientific descriptions of individual flowers and collecting books such as the Dictionary of Flowers. She knows, for example, that a marigold represents grief, that basil means hate and that dahlias stand for dignity. This knowledge is to stand her in good stead when Meredith leaves to fend for herself with a twenty-dollar bill and a note that reads, ‘Buy food and find a job.’

After a period of homelessness, Victoria begins casual work with a florist, Renata, who, realising the teenager’s skill with flowers, increases her hours and responsibilities, and gives her a sense of belonging. Victoria finds it difficult to relate to people except through plants, so that when a mysterious man at the markets where Victoria buys flowers starts a tentative relationship, Victoria begins to realise that perhaps she can find happiness in relationships. Her career flourishes and she finishes up becoming a sought after wedding floral designer.

This is an easy-to-read book and enjoyable for anyone who relates to flowers and how important they can be in one’s life. I found it odd that a person like Victoria would only relate to others through the medium of flowers. However, I allowed myself to go on the journey with the protagonist as she develops self-esteem and confidence in her dealings with others and moves from homelessness into shared accommodations.

This quirky novel, which has at its heart the story of mother-daughter relationships, abounds with interesting characters. It moves between past and present, building up a picture of Victoria to explain why she is sometimes remote, difficult and asocial. A first novel, the book has already sold into 25 countries, so obviously the publishers have great expectations of it.


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