Fresh Water for Flowers is hushed in tone, so much that you want to read its words in a whisper. It is also immensely emotive, so much that your heart beats out of your chest when you read it. Thus, the tale of Violette Toussaint is both a quiet observation of life as well as a loud, evocative message of resilience, layered like the most delicious cake of sentiment, solitude and the power of self-belief.
Originally written in French by Valérie Perrin, and newly translated by Hildegarde Serle, Fresh Water for Flowers, is the life story of one Violette Toussaint, stout conversationalist, eternal optimist and cemetery keeper. A life that could be presented as morbid is instead brilliant and positive, sensuous, and sparkling with moments of humour and wit.
As the keeper of a cemetery in Burgundy–her past filled with sadness and loss–Violette Toussaint could simply be a tender of decaying corpses, instead she is a caretaker of souls and memories. Her role is that of pillar and keeper, her neighbors and fellow townspeople find her in their moments of grief and vulnerability, seeking her presence and conversation for comfort. She is a constant presence in the face of life’s turbulence, moving in and out of their lives through various insightful encounters.
The absence of morbidity in Fresh Water for Flowers is a testament to Perrin's (and thus Violette’s) belief in the power of perspective, and how one approaches life. A given situation is a series of potential choices, so stop comparing and start participating. Believe in yourself, your perspective and your desires. That’s not to say there is a complete absence of humanity’s darker tendencies in Fresh Water, but rather that despite the darkness, Violette Toussaint deeply believes in happiness and the pursuit of it.
A profound novel of self-worth, human relationship and resilient optimism, this is one of the best books of the year.
Review by Joel
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