Floriography is a Victorian art of using the symbolism of flowers to convey messages that could not be spoken in the context of the strict social codes of the time. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's novel 'The Language of Flowers' brings this symbolism into the modern day through the story of Victoria Jones, a woman with a troubled childhood which scarred the rest of her life and its human relationships.
Victoria develops an interest in flowers at an early age. Reading about and identifying them provides with her with a connection to the world that she cannot have through the humans around her. She is a constant challenge to each set of foster parents that she is assigned to. Her case manager finally concedes defeat and Victoria is sent to a foster home until she is released at the age of 18.
There was one placement with a foster parent that almost ended happily. It was with Elizabeth, a single woman who lived on her own vineyard. Life with Elizabeth is unconventional but Victoria soon develops the closest thing to a parent and child bond she has had in her entire life. Elizabeth teaches Victoria all sort of things and together they learn more about the flowers that seem to be Victoria's only way of expressing her feelings.
Unfortunately, the fragile bond that Elizabeth and Victoria share fractures rather dramatically and with devastating consequences. Elizabeth (already carrying many emotional scars of her own), falters on the day she was to formally apply to adopt Victoria. The pair are forced apart in the aftermath as Victoria reacts bitterly to the rejection.
The novel's plot is delivered in shifts between the present day and the past with Victoria as the constant narrator. After telling us of the above, Diffenbaugh hones in on Victoria's life after she leaves the foster home. Virtually penniless and with limited professional skills, Victoria shuns the accommodation arranged for her and lives on the streets. Her meagre funds run out quickly and she eventually finds a job in a florist's store owned by Renata. Together, Renata and Victoria build the business into a thriving operation that focuses on floriography as the inspiration for weddings, parties and bouquets for general giving.
Other parts of Victoria's life take root and well, blossom. She gets her own place to live and begins a tentative relationship with a man who genuinely loves her. The uncertainty is all on Victoria's part and when she discovers she is pregnant to him, she flees. Without telling him that he is to be a father. What follows is a harrowing time for Victoria as she gets through the pregnancy, delivery and early weeks of her daughter's life on her own. Though she feels great love for her daughter, Victoria feels that she cannot be the parent the child deserves and leaves her at the door of her lover. The novel concludes with Victoria's journey of redemption connecting her back into lives of the people she tore herself apart from earlier in her life. Through this, Victoria learns self acceptance, inner peace and how love is to be both given and received.
I've read quite mixed reviews on 'The Language of Flowers'. Most agree that the themes of floriography, troubled lives and the fracture of self as fallout for many in foster care are well explored but that the plot and characterization lets the writing down. I agree with the majority of critics on this one. Diffenbaugh writes with vivid detail but there were times when I just didn't really care about Victoria. The plot isn't unique but the ends are all neatly tied together at the end, much like a bouquet. It was a mostly satisfying read though, good for a wintry weekend in when the more formulaic chick lit just doesn't cut it.