Fresh Water for Flowers
Published by Europa editions
Paperback released June 10th
Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Her daily life is lived to the rhythms of the hilarious and touching confidences of random visitors and her colleagues―three gravediggers, three groundskeepers, and a priest.
Violette’s routine is disrupted one day by the arrival of police chief Julien Seul, wishing to deposit his mother’s ashes on the gravesite of a complete stranger. Julien is not the only one to guard a painful secret: his mother’s story of clandestine love breaks through Violette’s carefully constructed defences to reveal the tragic loss of her daughter, and her steely determination to find out who is responsible.
The funny, moving, intimately told story of a woman who believes obstinately in happiness, Fresh Water for Flowers brings out the exceptional and the poetic in the ordinary. A delightful, atmospheric, absorbing tale.
How do I even begin to review this book and give an insight into what it was to read it.
I adored this novel and fell into it’s pages from the moment I picked it up. I literally fell!
I swam, walked and sat amongst it’s wonderful assortment of emotions, stories, scenery and characters and don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with such a multifaceted story line.
Our main character, Violette, lives and works as a cemetery caretaker in a small town in Bourgogne. Her life appears simple as she spends her days growing vegetables and flowers, attending to the needs of the cemetery and spending parts of day with her colleagues, the local priest and those that come to attend funerals and visit the tombs and graves afterwards.
However, we soon learn a simple life is not what Violette has led, as we read we learn of the amazingly bittersweet backstory to our main character and meet the lives that have touched Violette over the last 25 odd years.
Brilliantly translated by Hildegarde Serle, the author uses dual timelines, 1st person narrative from Violette, 2nd person narrative from the perspective of other characters, and it all works beautifully, with some of it coming together at the end.
The book has an array of back stories and tales of those who come into the cemetery. The beginning shows us present day Violette and is intersperse with small, chapter length stories, of those that are buried within the beautifully kept grounds of the cemetery. It then goes on to tell us the backstory of Violette, her husband and the relationships they have both had which have impacted on their lives. We learn of heart-breaking events and emotions but also touching tales of friendship, courage and moving on.
The characters are an absolute joy to meet. Some complex and lost, others full of love and laughter. It really is a book that transported me away and took me on a journey of the most bittersweet story.
The settings are wonderfully evoked (I could have sat in the garden amongst her vegetables and flowers with the sun on my face for ages) and the pace, rhythmic flow and writing are sublime. Poetic, moving and with great sensitivity, yet even though I was sad to come to the end, I was left feeling light and soothed by reading it. Utter joy!
Hugh thanks to Gabriella Drinkald for bringing this book to my attention and sending me my copy to read. A definite contender for my read of this year and one I strongly recommend you read.
Valérie Perrin is a photographer and screenwriter who works with (and is married to) Claude Lelouch. Her first novel, Les Oubliés du Dimanche, has won numerous prizes, including the 2016 Lire Élire and Poulet-Malassis prizes. Fresh Water for Flowers is her first novel to be translated into English and an international sensation.
Hildegarde Serle graduated in French from Oxford University. After working as a newspaper subeditor in London for many years, she obtained the Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation. She is the translator of A Winter’s Promise and The Missing of Clairdelune, atmospheric, absorbing tale.