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    mirrors life's beauty

    A novel in which the narrator claims to have been “adopted” by a book provides its own assessment criteria. Does Fresh Water for Flowers adopt us, claim us, make a home for us between its pages? Absolutely. Violette, the heroine and narrator, is an orphan who marries the first man she adores, Philippe Toussaint. Philippe and Violette have a daughter, Leonine. Later in life, Violette becomes a cemetery caretaker. She meets Julien Seul as he leaves his mother’s ashes on the grave of her lover. Curious about this beautiful cemetery caretaker, Julien plays detective in Violette’s life. Does he help Violette go of a lifetime of hurts, or is he just another cause for pain? As Julien discovers, there’s more to Violette than the drab uniform she wears. He sees something red peeking out beneath her beige coat... Violette considers her little house in the cemetery a confessional. Her job is to be discreet, a listener, and yet, as her mentor, the previous cemetery caretaker says, “if we had to do only what was part of our job, life would be sad.” (31). As Violette takes stories of her cemetery “neighbors” up into her own, attending to the dead and the ones they leave behind turns out to be a lifegiving process. Perrin’s treatment of scenes - a testament to her photography and screenwriting abilities - is a lifegiving luxury to the senses. Clothing, flowers, food, and cozy rooms are brought to life in vivid detail, in Violette’s observant eye. The plot moves along like animated floral arrangements. This first translated novel of French author/photographer/screenwriter, Perrin, is an epic and a cinematographic landmark, poised on the fine point between life and death. This novel turns both death and life on their heads. Violette, her mentor, Sasha, and friend, Julien, find ways to generate a garden from death’s compost. But there are other characters who are just as good at making life a living hell. The novel is full of extremes and comic interludes in between. There are love affairs, happy marriages and relationships gone sour. There are love letters and diary entries, eulogies, court records and official statements, in short, a seed catalogue of literary gems between two covers. This novel envelopes us and makes us cry as well as smile. It’s the best kind of mirror, that reflects back to us the beauty and breadth of being human.
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    Life and redemption

    I have just finished reading Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle and I wish I had the time to start reading it all over again. This is the most beautiful book to come out of my TBR pile this year. Violette Toussaint lives in a little house in a cemetery in Bourgogne in France. She is the caretaker of this cemetery and she tends it with love and pride. Her world revolves around the tending of the graves and the care of the aggrieved. Her friends are the people who cross her path there. So far, it doesn’t seem like much of a story but it is so lyrical, so touching, so sad and so rewarding. This is the life of a young woman who goes through some of life’s most tragic events and attempts to keep her head and her heart in the right place throughout. It is a Sunday afternoon kind of read. I recommend it to all. Thank you to Europa Editions and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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