The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

A young woman called Victoria is taken on to work with a florist in San Francisco. She has no qualifications or experience, but she displays a rare talent; not only can she arrange flowers, but she also associates blooms with emotions. She quickly builds a loyal following of customers who want her to express their true intent by creating messages with flowers.

Victoria buys stems for her arrangements early each morning at the flower market, and one flowerseller has particular significance for her. It seems she has met him before. As the relationship progresses, we learn more about Victoria's earlier years in a foster home with Elizabeth, the woman who taught her all about flowers.

I didn't want to like this book. It seemed to be winning reviews everywhere I turned, and not only in magazines but on the radio and television too. This from a first time novelist, an American, who had created interest in her book by finding a theme which no one else had written about and which captured the imagination of journalists wanting a book to stand out from the crowd. I hoped it was a cynical marketing ploy and that it would be badly written and not about flowers at all!

But I have to concede that this is a lovely book. The theme, writing, characterisation and storyline are altogether charming. I loved reading it - to find out more about Victoria's past and its impact on her life in the present and for the future, but also to enjoy the concept of flowers having significance beyond their immediate aesthetic beauty.

However, having come to be wooed by this concept, it is frustrating then to learn that there is, in fact, no one definition of which flower should be associated with which emotion. The dictionaries in existence often contradict each other apparently, but the author has decided upon the consensus. Even so, it is quite unnerving to think you might be intending to say thank you with a cheery, colourful posy and the recipient might understand the flowers to stand for shame, anger and regret. No doubt there will be a bundle of flower dictionaries reprinted in time for the Christmas market. 

Review date: September 2011
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh