Sunday 29 July 2012

Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I’m not a big blurb reader. I usually scan them to get a general idea of what a book is about, but I don’t like to know all the details. Even when reading reviews, I tend to skip over the synopsis and go straight to the reviewer’s thoughts on the book – especially whether they liked it or not.

When The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh was released, reviews started popping up all over the blogosphere, and they were overwhelmingly positive. My interest was piqued. I scanned the synopsis and picked up the words “Victorian language of flowers”,  “mysterious man” and “heartbreaking and uplifting”. It was more than enough to make me put the book on my wishlist, and it was the first book I snatched up when I joined a new library recently.

It seems that I really need to start reading blurbs more thoroughly. Because I totally thought this book was set in Victorian England, and was about a homeless flower girl.

"I'm a good girl, I am!"

Yeah, I was way wrong. It’s actually set in modern day San Francisco. However, it kinda is about a homeless flower girl. You see, Victoria Jones has just turned 18, too old for the foster care system she grew up in, in which she learnt to trust no one – least of all herself. She winds up on the streets, tending to a flower garden – the only thing she cares about in the world. Through the symbolic language of flowers, she sends messages to others (mostly of hate). Her innate talent lands her a job at a local florist, leading to a chance encounter at the flower market that will affect her past, present and future.

Once I readjusted my expectations that I was not, in fact, reading a historical novel, I quickly fell in love with The Language of Flowers. As befits a novel with such a title, the language is beautiful and elegant – but, importantly, not too flowery. The story flashes between the present and the past, slowly converging on the moment when Victoria’s path went downhill, before following her on her journey back up. It turns what is essentially a novel about feelings (not that there’s anything wrong with that) into a mystery, as you eagerly read on to discover how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Victoria is not exactly a likable character – there were times I just wanted to reach into the page and shake her sensible – and the way she cuts herself off from everybody extends to the reader. But there’s something about her that gets under your skin; she’s one of those characters who stays on your mind even when you’re not reading the book. To be obvious and use a flower analogy – she’s all prickles, crying out for a bit of care and tenderness so that she can bloom.

Along comes Grant. Oh, Grant. If Victoria pricks under your skin, Grant burrows his way into your heart and takes root (OK, I’ll stop with the plant talk. Maybe). He is not your average 23-year-old guy, but then, he hasn’t exactly had an average life. His strangeness is just what Victoria needs – and vice versa. Watching their relationship slowly but surely develop is lovely.

The supporting characters are fantastically written. There are so many strong women in this book. A special shout-out to Renata’s mother, who’s seen it all and takes no crap. Just what Victoria needs. Although I have to say, I was very frustrated with her – with all of the characters, really – at one point in the book (see spoilers below if you’ve read it). Still, it’s to Diffenbaugh’s credit that you come to care about all of these unique, flawed characters, even if you don’t always agree with what they do or say. Together, they take you on an emotional rollercoaster, exploring the meaning of family and ultimately reinforcing the power of love.

Rating: 4/5

Spoilery Talking Points
  • I was not surprised at all when Victoria got pregnant. In fact, my first thought when she slept with Grant for the first time was, “ummm, what about protection?”. Not exactly romantic.
  • I couldn’t believe it when Victoria gave up the baby – and yet at the same time I could. I felt for her, and I was actually more frustrated, as I hinted at above, with the surrounding characters. Especially Renata’s mother. Couldn’t she see Victoria was struggling, isolated and alone? 
Eye Candy
I though Natalie Portman circa her pixie cut was the perfect fit for Victoria. For some reason when I read Grant's description I automatically pictured Matt Corby (le sigh), and it kinda stuck. Worked for me.


Fine Print
Published: 2011, Pan Macmillan Australia
Get It: Basement Books (quick, it's only $4.74!)


  1. I am about to read this for an online book club. I have heard a lot of good things about it so I am looking to reading it myself.

  2. Glad you liked it, I really enjoyed it too. Like you, I wanted to shake Victoria but she was certainly an engaging character. I wasn't surprised to see her give her child away and thought the ending was a good balance between a realistic and happy ending.

    1. The ending was good - a bit too happy for my liking perhaps. But then after all that heartache anything less probably would have been depressing.

  3. O fab review.
    I'm so glad you liked it.
    I went into it completely unaware of what it was about and it did just what you said it "got under my skin".

    I agree with the baby.
    I couldn't believe it but then I liked that it's her biggest goal to get better and be better for her.

    I loved Renata's mom.
    But my favorite was the woman that tried to adopt her.
    I felt for the woman who lost the man she loved and then tried so desperately to make her self a family.

    I looooooooooooove your choice for Grant.
    I am not however sure about Natalie.
    Her face is too sweet for me.
    I think I want someone with rougher edges.
    Someone like Michelle Williams.

    Great post!

    1. PS One thing is for sure, I can't wait for a film version.

    2. Thanks Juju! I felt for her, especially when the sister wouldn't accept her forgiveness even when she kept trying. And then the misunderstanding with the fire - so sad!
      I think it would make a lovely movie!

  4. Oh my...I work and B&N and see so many books come out, but don't really have time to read them all!! I'd seen this one, but hadn't had a chance to look it over..

    Thanks for taking the time to review it! :)

    1. It's definitely worth a read! Must be so much fun working in a book store.

  5. I fell in love with Grant too. What young, soulful guy talks to a girl through flowers? Sigh.

  6. I have never heard of this one- but I like the cover and the blurb. I enjoyed your review and it made me very curious about this book. Thanks for sharing. :)


    1. The cover is what drew me to it initially.

  7. Ohhh Belle, I'm so glad you loved this book! I read a while ago and it really surprised me.

    Wonderful review my dear! :)

    1. Thanks lovely. 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!

  8. I've heard so many wonderful things about this novel, but have yet to pick it up. After reading your post, sounds like I must pick it up ASAP. What a terrific review! And it sounds like the perfect read to give away on World Book Night.

    Marlene Detierro (CashFund)