The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers  was billed to me as the Eat, Pray, Love of 2011. As someone who considers ‘women’s literature’ an often narrow and boring genre, chick lit dressed up as literature, I only read LoF because it was the subject of an intense and expensive auction and probably deserved my attention. A bookseller should always be on top of the bestsellers, even if they are not to one’s tastes.

It has taken me several months to actually finish Language, as it has been on my pile of books to be read when I am going to bed and need something to nudge me into sleep. This isn’t the first time a book on that pile surprised me (The Borrower being a good example). Briefly, Language is the story of Victoria, a young woman of nineteen who has been shunted from foster home to orphanage most of her life. Her one positive home is ruined and she carries the pain of that separation with her. Understandably flawed, scarred and solitary, Victoria has grown up with the Victorian language of flowers as her primary form of communication. It is also the only one she is honest in.  (There is a nifty flower dictionary at the back of the book. Its a nice touch.)Discovered by a florist, she comes to meet someone from her past, and must deal with her love for him, the mother she lost and her own trials in trying to make it in a world she fundamentally mistrusts.

It is in parts deeply touching and vividly descriptive; Victoria’s own struggle with her newborn and the desperate feeling of failure seems like something I might feel if I were nineteen and a single, poor and confused mother. It is an easy read; if I hadn’t come across more books to my taste in the intervening months, I might have finished this in a day or two. It is much more in line with the Jodi Picoult fan base: well-developed main character faces dilemmas in a miserable way and solves them. It is predictable but honest, and I am only not raving about it because it really isn’t to my tastes. It didn’t make me think about anything or inspire me to write. However, I feel that in the genre it is in it is a worthwhile choice and still worth a read by anyone who enjoys stories of growth, redemption, family and all those things that the book blurbs say. It focuses on family and handles it well; I feel that Victoria herself can get a bit overdramatic in her ‘I hate the world, it hates me, I am toxic’ thought processes; maybe a third person narrator would have eased that off a bit.

But again, the book’s sales have been excellent, and I recognise that it my tastes and not the book’s content that keeps it out of my top 50 list.

Watch the book trailer here on YouTube!

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