20 September 2020

A Fresh Voice: Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin

How wonderful to discover a new voice - not new in Europe, but to us. Valerie Perrin is a French screenwriter and photogrpher, also an award-winning novelist, but this is her first fiction to publish in English. The sort of book that calls to you when over and hard to put down. 
Our unforgettable heroine, Violette, is a cemetery keeper. Not a job that often comes to mind but a fascination in fiction. Note: the name Violette, like the flower, signifies modesty, also faithfulness, and is said to be a good luck symbol for women. In this case, yes and no. 
Day and night, Violette arranges funerals and supervises groundskeeping. She keeps a journal of interment for those who could not be there. She invites the regular mourners to tea. She comes to know the personal story of those encrypted, and the details, sometimes strange of their burials, as if extended family. We meet many of them through her reflections. 
Violette understands that how we are buried reflects how we lived. Despite an early life of Dickensian hardship, and a catastrophic loss that has rendered her an iconoclast, she remains life affirming.
I like giving life. Sowing, watering, harvesting. And starting again, every year. I like life just as it is today. Bathed in sunshine, I like being the essence of things. 
When Violette is not recording, receiving visitors, planning events or gardening, she feeds a posse of cats and a dog who reside on the grounds, and she spends time with her family of cohorts: the gravedigger, the mortuary brothers, the priest. She knows their stories; they accept her without knowing more than she wishes to reveal. She appreciates the safety net. 
The weather is magnificent. The May sun caresses the soil I'm turning over. Three of the older cats rediscover chase after their imaginary mice together. A few wary blackbirds sing a bit further along. 
As much as Violette is present in the moment, she is haunted by her past and the thread of the novel is a series of interlocking revelations of what came before. A mystery to be solved and within which is a profound understanding of human frailty. as well as the capacity to evolve. All of which ultimately forces her to face her tragedy and embrace the future. 
However, not until the mystery is solved, and here is another beauty in the construct: we learn, as she learns, bit by bit, painfully, the surprising truths she has evaded and which is essential for her to heal. 

it's a glorious read. Touching, thought provoking, slow but also taut: a tribute to our humanity and our power to heal. Another must read.