Sunday, December 18, 2011

{Review} The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published by Random House Publishing Group, 2011
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN 034552554X
Genres: adult fiction, contemporary fiction, literary fiction, romance, women's fiction, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 My reviewThis is an interesting book and a fast read, though definitely not what I was expecting. I have an affection for the Victorian practice of using flowers to communicate (you can't get much more romantic than that - unless, of course, you're gifting thistles, but anyway...) but because I had been hearing the word "Victorian" so much in connection with this book, I was thinking it was going to be historical fiction. I know this was silly of me, but there it is. Confusion aside, it turns out this book does, in fact, have a potentially great story line, but I am disappointed in its execution and development. 

For one thing, I had a very hard time relating to the characters, mainly Victoria. Some of her experiences I can empathize with, like the postpartum depression (though, and here's my two cents' worth, that is still no excuse for leaving her baby all by herself for hours on end). However, she felt very inconsistent. I honestly couldn't keep up with her mood and personality changes. One moment she was remorseful, practically penitent, and the next hardened to the point of cruelty. And then back, and forth, and back again. I think if Victoria had been developed a little differently, explained a little sooner and more fully, or a third person narrator had been used, she may have seemed more believable. As she is, though, her character comes off as pretty two-dimensional, which is frustrating seeing as she's the main protagonist as well as the narrator.

There's also so much that isn't explained about Victoria and Grant's pasts. Victoria's is kind of glossed over after she leaves Elizabeth's care and Grant's is described as "lonely" and a couple similar adjectives, but there's never any real development in this regard. I also wanted to get to know more about the dynamics between Elizabeth and Catherine (and their mother), but I was left unsatisfied in this respect as well.

Maybe I'm being unreasonable (especially since this is the author's debut work), but these issues really got in the way of my fully enjoying the novel. I look forward to her next book but will probably never be interested in owning this one or reading it again.

Note: my mom is who recommended this book to me because she really enjoyed it. She was disappointed to hear I don't care for it and when I told her I hadn't given it a very good review, she told me to tell my readers that "she liked it and it's still worth reading". So you as my witness, I've passed along the message. Just in case she asks :)
Mary Beth

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