Saturday 12 June 2021

BLOG TOUR: Fresh Water for Flowers - Valérie Perrin, translated by Hildegarde Serle

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.  

An unforgettable story of love and loss told through the life of a woman who believes obstinately in happiness. Touching on the deepest aspects of human life, Fresh Water for Flowers brings out the exceptional and the poetic in the ordinary and reminds us of the life affirming value of kindness. 

What did I think?

I don't think I would have picked up this book from its title alone and that would have been a terrible tragedy as it's an absolutely stunning novel.  The title may be a bit odd but then so is the setting of the book: a cemetery in a small town in France.  I've certainly never read a book set in a cemetery before!

I loved this book from the very first page as Valérie Perrin transports the reader to the Brancion-en-Chalon cemetery and we are introduced to its cemetery keeper Violette Toussaint.  Of course you naturally wonder how Violette came to be a cemetery keeper and why she seems so content in this strange location.  The unravelling of Violette's personal story is so beautifully done as it interweaves  between daily life in the cemetery and anecdotes of past funerals.  It may sound morbid but it's actually incredibly moving and I love how Violette makes notes of each funeral showing how varied people can be in their grief.

Violette gets a strange visitor one day in the form of Julien Seul who is honouring his mother's wishes of having her ashes placed in a particular tomb.  This may sound like a standard request, however, the tomb's current occupant is a stranger to Julien.  The secret to this mystery lies within his mother's journals which Julien shares with Violette.  It's not so much the content of the journals but the sharing of the story that draws the pair together and Julien's appearance in Violette's life feels like fate.

The chapters are quite short (there are 94 chapters over 474 pages) and Violette's story is so engaging that I found myself racing through the book.  I loved the unusual quotes at the start of each chapter, it's not explained what they are but I made the assumption that they are plaques on the various gravestones in the cemetery.  I think the majority of them are fictional quotes written by the author although I recognised the 'Do not stand at my grave and weep' poem.  It was a lovely touch though and I enjoyed reading the moving and often wise words.

As well as the chapter quotes there are some outstanding nuggets of wisdom in the prose.  I don't often share quotes from books but this one really resonated with me so I had to share it to remind myself of its brilliance.

'As soon as your thoughts are turning dark, take your pruning shears and cut back those troubles.'

So beautifully written, this heartfelt and poignant novel will stay with me long after I turned the final page.  Hildegarde Serle's translation is impeccable and you could be forgiven for forgetting that this novel was originally written in French.  I am so glad that I have discovered this very unusual and poignant hidden gem of a book and I definitely want to read it again.  I loved it and wholeheartedly recommend it.

I can't thank Midas PR enough for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and sending me an ARC to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

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.

About the translator:

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.

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