The Language of Flowers

My Dad gave me a Kindle for Christmas. I know there’s a whole minefield of ownership issues out there and physical books are infinitely more treasurable, but I feel like I have just discovered reading again. The iPad app has nothing on the convenience of the immediately connected, longer lasting, fit-in-your hand real thing. It is like having a library in your bag.

I have just finished The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I found it courtesy of “people like me” on Amazon, the source of the past 5 books which I’ve read and enjoyed. I am glad that online discovery is getting more sophisticated.  I can still feel the shadow of the book in my head: it is like I have spent the past few days in another world.

The Language of Flowers reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale, at first. I can’t quite work out why. Maybe the ominous undercurrent evoked the same feelings or maybe my head just remembers more than I do, which feels a funny thing to write. I don’t think that The Language of Flowers is set in the future, but time is certainly on the periphery and the context is recognisable but not familiar.  Maybe that’s more of a reflection of Victoria’s (the protagonist) view of the world than, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, a narrative construct. It is funny how the same world can look so different depending on where you stand in it.

Victoria’s world isn’t great for a lot of the book. It starts out pretty horrendously and she keeps the pattern going. We are often our own worst enemies and it is hard not to empathise with someone whose finger is so obviously pushing self-destruct. It is, in part, the intensity of the emotions that makes what could be a relatively generic combination of coming of age / overcoming adversity so compelling. The language of flowers that we learn as the book progresses is the other thing that makes it really standout:  in a strangely beautiful twist, the pivotal communications often take place through bouquet choice rather than through words.

On Valentine’s day last year, my boyfriend sent me White Roses, because he is a Yorkshire man. I don’t think I have ever thought much about the significance of flowers, even though I know that they are bound up in traditions and symbolism and even though I have felt their somewhat magical effect.  According to the language that Victoria learns, each flower has its own distinct meaning. Yellow Roses symbolise infidelity; Jonquil, desire; Hazel means reconciliation; Mistletoe, I surmount all obstacles.

There are so many codes written into the world. I loved the experience of reading The Language of Flowers but it is this new way of reading that I will ultimately take away.


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