Marie’s Reading: “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers was recommended by a patron, and I’m glad I picked it up–it moves gracefully between tender and tough, exploring redemption and relationships through the Victorian language of flowers.

Victoria Jones is just the sort of protagonist I like to read about, and she was the reason I kept reading when the plot and style began to flail and sputter a bit in the book’s final third.  She’s flawed and slightly damaged, and not necessarily looking to change.   She has a special intuition for and connection with flowers, one that we learn is heavily connected with the foster mother she spent the longest with, Elizabeth.  The narrative goes between Victoria’s present (where she is 18 and emancipated out of the foster-care system) and her year with Elizabeth.

While the subplots don’t work nearly as well as the primary story of Victoria’s growth as a person, this is still a strong novel that explores its themes with metaphor and grace.  There is a lot of meditation about the strength and challenge of  mother-daughter relationships, too, and those explorations are at their best in the chapters about Victoria’s childhood.

Without Victoria as a narrator this book wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does–she’s certainly the best thing about it.   She’s multi-layered with a voice that comes through loud and clear.  The flower dictionary in the back of the book is a nice touch, too.


I’d suggest White Oleander by Janet Fitch for readers who enjoyed The Language of Flowers–it’s very similar in content and tone, but there’s more complexity and nuance to the storyline and writing.  Readers who enjoy novels that explore mother-daughter relationships might want to try Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout.  I also thought of Sheri Reynolds’ A Gracious Plenty while reading this book–the heroine is quite similar to Victoria (except that she connects with the spirits of the dead in the cemetery she tends, in the same way Victoria connects with flowers).



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