Book review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Tuesday, November 20, 2018 Permalink

I put a call out a week or so ago on my Facebook page, asking people about books they’ve loved this year. I explained I was starting to plan my ‘favourite novels of 2018’ post and wanted to check if I’d missed out on something I REALLY should have read. I used The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart as an example. It wasn’t a book I requested for review but I’d read nothing but AMAZING things about it.

Of course, people said the same about Gone Girl and Big Little Lies and (for me) both of those turned out to be somewhat anti-climactic so it was with some trepidation I borrowed Lost Flowers from a friend.

But… Oh. My. God. For the most part this book was amazing and I was hooked from the beginning.

Book review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly RinglandThe Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
by Holly Ringland
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
on March 19th 2018
Source: Borrowed
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 1460754336
Pages: 400

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

Ringland’s writing is superb. The way we readers are given insight into Alice’s home life through those opening pages: her nine-year old perception of the very small world to which she’s exposed; the way she talks about her mother’s passion for flowers; and her innocent yet very-real understanding of her father and her parents’ relationship.

What might it be like, if her father was consumed by fire? All his monsters burned to ash, leaving the best of him to rise, renewed by flames, remade into the man he sometimes was: the man who made her a desk so she could write stories. p 4

The imagery Ringland’s writing elicits during the early chapters is stunning. Vivid and confronting. Very visceral.

The events that take place just after we meet Alice, both make and break her. And that part of the book – the first half or so – I found to be just beautiful. Stunningly written, poignant and very raw.

…life is lived forward but you only understood backward. You can’t see the landscape you’re in while you’re in it. p 11

We stay with Alice for a while in her new life before skipping forward a little. Twice. And I felt something was slightly lost both of times as I felt less engaged when we reconnected with Alice and those around her. The later transition (almost the last); Alice’s travel to the Northern Territory, felt more grounded as we were with her every step of the way and the pacing was more consistent.

Ringland’s obviously done her research and there’s a very strong sense of traditions and history throughout this book. First through Thornfield – ‘a place where flowers and women could bloom’ (p 71) and Alice’s own legacy; and then we delve deep into Indigenous culture. And we’re offered a very strong sense of place via Ringland’s descriptive prose.

In her author’s note Ringland tells us the location of Kililpitjara and the Earnshaw Crater are fictional but inspired by real places and stories and grounded in Aboriginal culture.  And of course Alice, given her own strong ties to nature and its offerings appreciates this.

There was – as a result – a sense of fate or destiny that we ultimately find our ‘home’. However, Ringland turns that on its head a little at the end and I liked the way she finished the book and the story of some of those we’d met.

The early part of this book reminded me of one of my favourite books of this year (as this might well be), The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady, also told through the eyes of a child proffering a mix of desperation and despondency as well as hope.

There’s the sad reference to domestic and family violence throughout this book and the impact it has, not just on the victims and perpetrators, but those around them (and yet another legacy…).

This book is also about secrets. I was agog people are so good at keeping them and so resolute about doing so. I couldn’t understand why Alice didn’t demand answers but then pondered on her early life, when she learned not to ask questions. I can’t imagine others here (though) not being tempted or inclined to tell Alice more about her history or that of her family, given it was partially their story as well. And of course there’s a sad lesson in that, the more we try to control (the truth and) those around us, the more we push them away.

This is a lovely book. Ringland’s cleverly woven native plants and flowers through the chapters and the prose as well as history and mythology – from a range of cultures – through the book’s theme.  And although Ringland offers us many (many) strong female characters, there’s a pervading sense of their need to pitch the preservation of their legacies (and themselves) against the inevitability of change.

Finally I think this book is about people coming into our lives when we most need them and a belief that THAT can happen. (In Alice’s case Sally, June, Twig, Candy and the Flowers, Oggi, Moss, Lulu and Ruby.)

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland was published by Harper Collins Australia and is now available.


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