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Friday, 6 April 2012

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Common in the 19th century, the idea that flowers had symbolic meanings led people to convey their emotions through the gifts of the flowers they gave one another. Known as the art of "floriography", these symbolic bouquets became popular, and the posies were known as "tussie-mussies" in Victorian times. Today you can find more about the meanings of individual flowers from The Gardener

This Image comes from Joyce Tice's website

The Language of Flowers tells the story of Victoria, a homeless eighteen year old and her passion for the meanings of flowers.

Victoria has been brought up in foster care, and the only adult with whom she had a meaningful relationship was Elizabeth, the woman who first introduced her to the language of flowers. Because of a catastrophe for which Victoria herself is to blame (I won't spoil it for you) they have become estranged, and now Victoria is living rough. Desperate for work, she ends up in a florist's shop where her gifts with ascribing meaning to flowers are appreciated at last.

But life is not that simple, and Grant, an acquaintance from the past turns up.From there, things grow more complicated, and after they begin a relationship, Victoria becomes pregnant. Through a series of flashbacks the reader begins to understand what happened during Victoria's childhood to make her so distrustful of herself and others.

This book has been available for a while and has won awards. I imagine by now it is a book club classic, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a well-written and absorbing read. You can watch Vanessa talk about writing her novel here

Here is my floral review, taken from the dictionary at the back of the novel.

 Lisianthus - appreciation
Rose, orange - fascination
Sweet Pea - delicate pleasures


  1. This is a story of relationships, how we negotiate them, the pain they cause, the life that they offer and the possibility of recovery from even the most traumatic experiences. Children who lack permanence as they grow up struggle with issues of trust and belonging as is evident in watching Victoria try to find their niche and communicate with herself and her world. Using flowers, the indirect and symbolic language of the Victorian era as her vehicle, Vanessa Diffenbaugh captures the sense of disconnect that many children leaving foster care experience. Much of what they have learned to be accurate is not necessarily so and their ability to recognize nuances and alternative truths involves time and patience with self and others.Communication and the ability to successfully process life experiences, regardless of how it is attempted, depends on a level of reciprocity and common ground that is not always as strong as one may assume. Reconciliation vs. peace. Infidelity vs. jealousy. The long term impact of similar but very different interpretations. Having worked for many years with children in foster care, I found this to be a tremendously romanticized take on the reality facing kids aging out of the system and was personally put off by the almost dream like atmosphere and predictable course that the book took. Stories of redemption and successful coming of age can and should be told but are more credible when they are less ephemeral than this one. Diffenbaugh has chosen an innovative structure upon which to build this debut novel but although she was more successful in her focus on the flowers than she was in her connecting it to Victoria and Elizabeth's story.

  2. I've been wanting to read it since seeing your review and a few others that were glowing so I'm glad I finally got to it!

    Marlene Detierro (CashFund)