A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

A person can never be truly lost, as long as someone is looking for them.


Title - A Memory of Violets
Author - Hazel Gaynor
Publication Date - 12th March 2015 (Paperback)
Publisher - Harper360
Format - Paperback (Provided via publisher)
Pages - 400

The blurb

In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw's Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London's flower girls - orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive. 

Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie - a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie's pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart. 

Becca's thoughts

Just one word springs to mind when I think about my reading of A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. But, despite beautiful being such a strong word, I don't think it even comes close to describing the sheer breathtaking beauty of this story. In fact, I don't think that there is even a word in the English dictionary that would be capable of describing the precious elegance within the pages of this book. In fact (excuse the repetition here), I don't think that there's any point at all in me attempting to voice my thoughts and feelings because as of right now, it's almost as if my once tidy thoughts have been stampeded through by Hazel Gaynor and her brilliance. Despite this stampede, I can't hold it against Hazel. All I can do is profusely thank the author for providing me with something that I'm going to treasure, and for something that proves to me, once more, how absolutely bewitching the art of story-telling can be. I can't begin my review of this book until I've also thanked the marvellous Helena from Harper360. Without the kindness of Helena, I'm ashamed to say that this magnificent book probably would have never fallen into my hands, and that thought terrifies me. So, Helena, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

I won't waste time with re-wording the blurb and giving you an idea of what the book's about. In all fairness, if you scroll up the page just a little, the blurb is right there, and I'm afraid of taking too much time with fanciness, just in case these thoughts on A Memory of Violets escape. Therefore, I'm just going to get straight to it, I hope you don't mind. 

When looking back over my reading of this book, my thoughts turn to my younger sisters, and of how lucky they are to have the life that they do. In A Memory of Violets, Hazel introduces us to two little girls, Florrie and Rosie Flynn. Living, or merely existing, in a poverty and disease-ridden London, these girls touched my heart and wrung it dry of emotion before I'd even reached the middle of the book. Of course, this wouldn't have even been possible if hadn't of been for Hazel's vivid, incredibly bleak descriptions of the world that the Flynn girls inhabited. From the rats scurrying along the narrow, dark streets to the waste pooling around their bare feet, I wanted nothing more than to reach into this story and bundle Florrie and Rosie into blankets and bring them into the warmth of a home. The sheer disgust at what these girls had to endure will remain with me for a very long time, and as I first mentioned, I really couldn't help but to feel immeasurably grateful for my own siblings who have never known hardship in such a heartbreaking degree. Selling bundles of flowers together on the streets, Florrie and Rosie were inseparable, and the bond between the two girls moved me on so many levels. From a young age, Florrie had wanted a little sister, and as soon as Rosie had arrived, it had been love at first sight. The way Florrie protected and cared for Rosie had me choking back sobs that were desperate to escape. Florrie's worst nightmare, as it is mine, is that she'd lose Rosie and, with a painful twist to my gut as I continued to read, that's exactly what happened. Florrie had always made a point of keeping the tightest hold of Rosie's tiny hand when they sold their flowers amid the busy, filthy streets, and the one time that Rosie did let go, not by choice might I add, both girls' lives changed forever. At this point, I considered closing the book and not finishing. I know, it sounds terrible, but just the thought of this tiny girl, lost in such a terrible, rotten, disease-ridden setting, had my mind reeling. I could not bear to read of Florrie's thoughts at the separation of her younger sister, the little girl who she had loved so dearly since birth and protected so fiercely, but I soon found myself incapable of turning away from what was turning out to be a gripping, un-putdownable story, if ever I'd read one. Not only did Hazel describe the dismal settings of the Flynn girls' lives, but due to the disease and poverty, most of the young children who walked the streets had been physically affected in one or another. Rosie, the youngest Flynn girl, was near blind, and Florrie used the aid of a crutch to walk. Together, these two girls, in my mind, were such a bitter contrast, one immobile and one almost blind, it near tore my heart in two. This is where the sheer love that the girls had for each other undoubtedly made itself known to the reader. Despite the things that made their lives almost unbearable to live, the Flynn girls clung to each other, as if they provided each other with the air that they needed to live. I have no idea of how they managed to survive at all. To me, it seems such a magnificent achievement when I take into consideration the terrifying world that surrounded them, and it absolutely astounded me, more than words can say. This dreadful place, infected and miserable, never once dulled the glow of love that held the girls together. Hazel's descriptions shocked and appalled me, had me gulping in disbelief, and it truly opened my mind to the horrors of a time gone by, and to what the two girls who I have grown to love endured as they clutched each other's hand. 

The progression of A Memory of Violets held me captive the entire way through, and even once I'd closed the book, I still felt completely enveloped in the world that Hazel had given me. Through the form of letters, diary entries, and third person narrative from a number of the main characters, I was completely in awe of Hazel's storytelling abilities. Every page turned was a step closer to a secret being revealed. Every new part of the story was depicted by a flower which held some sort of special meaning. Every word, I devoured in one fell swoop. There were so many charming and meaningful aspects to this book. It made me smell flowers where there were none, which is amazing in itself, and I cannot applaud the author enough for awakening my sense and teasing each of them. As the title probably hints to you, flowers play such an intrinsic role within this book, from their smells to their meanings, to their beauty. Not only this, but they represent the flower girls and flower homes that you'll meet if you decide to read the book. I was introduced to a world that I previously knew not a single thing about, and it amazed me. To be completely truthful, it was a lesson in itself. 

When the story truly began to weave and wrap around the characters, across the different times, the notion of putting this book down and saving the page for later seemed absolutely ridiculous. There was no way on this earth that I was going to willingly pause the story. I wanted to be with the characters constantly, desperate to see where Hazel would take me on such a magnificent journey, regardless of whether it was fictional. Her words had a complete hold of me, and quite frankly, I didn't want them to let me go. I could have stayed reading this book for the rest of my life, and I mean that. The language was beautiful, really emphasising the girls' Irish background, and it just brought them to life in my mind as I read their gorgeous dialogue. I could almost hear their voices in my head. Of course, it wasn't only Florrie & Rosie's story that I was able to read and love, but Tilly's also, the young woman whose life is forever linked with the Flynn girls. What truly took my breath away was how much time had passed between these characters, yet they seemed so close and just a breath away from each other. They also, after thinking back over my reading of the book, were quite similar and dissimilar in a few ways. Tilly, who ends up working in the flower homes, also has a sister, who sadly, suffered a tragic accident as a young girl. There's a huge divide between Tilly and her sister, and you find out why as the story progresses and more facts about Tilly's life back home are revealed to you. It's clear, from the haunting flashbacks that Tilly experiences, that something life-changing took place between her during her past, and I was incredibly eager to find out what that something was, which, I think, fuelled my urge to finish the book and know everything about everyone.

This book will forever hold a special place within my heart, I'm certain of it. As the eldest of my siblings, I've always felt that I was, in some way smaller than my mother's, responsible for them. In turn, I think I was able to understand and feel Florrie's emotions on the day that Rosie went missing, as if they were my own. Hope, forgiveness, love, strength, are but a few of the numerous themes within this masterpiece of a novel, discovery and family being another two. It struck every single chord within me, and by the time I turned the final page, I was crying for the characters whose lives had been altered by the circumstances of their class and just a brief moment of chaos and confusion. Gah, Hazel Gaynor! I have no words to describe your obvious ability to capture and wrap up and envelope a reader within such a gorgeous, vivid world, and is it ridiculous of me to say that your own Irish roots gloriously shined through? You, Hazel Gaynor, deserve some sort of prestigious award for this, you truly do.  Unfortunately, I don't have the means to award you with anything expensive or glamorous, but I can award your treasure of a book with five of my cupcakes, and hope that you continue to write and weave the magic that has wrapped itself around me during my reading of your book. This was absolutely amazing, and Florrie and Rosie, despite being fictional, will live on in my heart and memory. 




             



3 comments :

  1. Wow, what a great review - I've just started this, I guess I had better get the tissues ready! Karen x

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  2. If I could write a review about this book, I would word it exactly the same, Becca. I wish I had the words to describe the book in the way that you have! Beautifully written book, beautifully written review! And my one word for the book would be WOW!

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  3. Another fabulous review, I will have to stop reading your reviews my wishlist is soooooo long, really need more hours in the day, thanks again for pointing me in the direction of all these great authors x

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