Periwinkle to inspire tender recollections, lilies of the valley to bring a return to happiness – with the hidden meaning of flowers to sooth a troubled soul, Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers is as full of enchantment as it is about foster care. Victoria, an orphan since she was abandoned as a baby, has been defiantly in and out of foster homes. At eighteen, she is “emancipated” from her last group home and sent out into the world – homeless, without an education or any prospects. Flowers are her only salvation.
Diffenbaugh alternates chapters from Victoria’s memories of her only loving temporary home with Elizabeth, who patiently taught her about flowers and nurtured a connection that becomes her safety line – to Victoria as she tries to forge a life as an itinerate worker with a local florist.
As she struggles to overcome her past as an unwanted child, shuffled through the social services system, Victoria’s sense of self is cautious, with low expectations that are repeatedly met by everyone in her life. She carries her scars into adulthood, mistrusting the possibility of friendship or love. Living one step above homelessness, Victoria manages to create a career with her knowledge of flowers; her talent for using flowers to solve problems brings her success and a new life.
Diffenbaugh includes an index of flowers with an interpretation of their application; if you enjoy books that use flowers or herbs for creative therapeutic solutions, add this one to your list.
Another book with flowers that can change your life:
Do you keep a diary? Do you record your anger and anxieties, or keep notes reminding you of people, events, times to remember? In her article for the New York Times – Burning the Diaries – Dominique Browning describes her cathartic experience – secure that her children will not discover her secrets. In this year’s Man Booker Award winning The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes has his character, Victoria, burn a diary left by Adrian, who has committed suicide. But a letter written by the main character survives to haunt him.
Although Jane Austen wrote over 3,000 letters, only 160 survive; her sister destroyed or edited most. Lewis Carroll’s diaries from 1858 – 1862 mysteriously disappeared – effectively hiding his inspiration or notes for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written in 1862.
The second best advice a friend passed on to me – keep a journal, assigning emotions to paper as the vehicle for cleansing – sometimes better to quietly write it than say it.
The best advice: destroy the pages so that no one could read them, and take offense at mutterings that were meant to be private. Browning notes in her article that rereading her diaries only brought back miseries better either forgotten or retooled as Tony Webster tries in the Julian Barnes novel.
The shredder is just as effective as burning – and without the cleanup Browning dreads.