Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, Hildegarde Serle (Translator)

1. First lines. 2. Book Cover Europa Editions 3. Roses – own work. 4. Cat on gravestone [Public Domain] by sumulee via Pixabay

Published: 2020 Europa Editions First published 2018 in French as “Changer l’eau des fleurs” Genre: Literary fiction Setting: Burgundy, France.

  • THE STORY:
    • This is the story of Violette, the main character – an orphan, a wife, a mother, a friend, a cemetery caretaker. She is the narrator, revealing a life of sadness and tragedy, but with optimism especially after she starts working as a cemetery caretaker in a small town in Burgundy, France, finding her own special place among the interred, with their families and visitors, and with the cemetery workers, who become the family that she never had.
  • QUOTES:
    • “In April, I put ladybird larvae on my rosebushes, and on those of the deceased, to combat greenfly. I’m the one who places the ladybirds, one by one, with a little paintbrush, on the plants. It’s as though I repainted my garden in the spring. As if I planted stairways between earth and sky. I don’t believe in phantoms or ghosts, but I do believe in ladybirds.”
    • “The writer Christian Bobin said, “Words left unspoken go off to scream deep inside us.” Those weren’t his exact words. But me, I was full of silences that screamed deep inside me. That woke me up at night. That made me put on weight, lose weight, age, cry, sleep all day, drink like a bottomless pit, bang my head against doors and walls. But I survived.”
  • REVIEWS:
    • Kirkus: “Overstuffed, at times rambling, but colorful and highly enjoyable and pulled together by an engaging narrator.”
    • San Francisco Book Review: “Even though it is thoroughly French, and it often mentions locations and life in France, it is an extremely well-written book that was frankly difficult to put down. Moving back and forth through time, location, and character, we get to see a troubled first marriage that should not have happened, and finally, the chance of redemption.”
  • MY THOUGHTS:
    • Very highly recommended. This story, mixing both humour and sadness is immensely readable. As the reader, I felt immersed in the main character Violette’s daily life, with the mystery of the tragedy becoming merely one element of the story. Adding depth to the novel are the backstories of the people interred in the cemetery where Violette works. At the beginning of each chapter there are short headstone epitaphs, for example, “There’ll always be someone missing to make my life smile: you.”. This adds to the poignant tone of the novel.

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