The Language of Flowers (Vanessa Diffenbaugh)

We have talked about this book very briefly in two previous posts (here and here), but we have a third reader of the book, our librarian, Miss Guy, who had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the company of Vanessa Diffenbaugh when she came to Chorleywood on a flying visit to England.  Miss Guy has sent me this lovely article about that afternoon…

Afternoon tea with Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  The Language of Flowers

It was a rare treat to be able to attend an afternoon author event and especially one with Vanessa Diffenbaugh  –  the author of The Language of Flowers hosted by Chorleywood Bookshop.

I read the novel some months back and was surprised to find how much I had remembered  –  testament to the wonderful narrative, characters and elegant style of Vanessa’s debut novel.  The story, without giving too much away, focusses on two strong women, both unforgettable in their own right. Victoria Jones now eighteen, after a childhood spent in foster care and now emancipated from the system, (set in America) is, as expected,  disillusioned with life and has lost the ability to trust any other adult or become close to anybody.  In itself this story could be rather depressing and impact negatively on the reader but in this case a lightness and balance is created through the language and symbolism of flowers. The engine of this novel is the exquisite use and reference to flowers which convey the feelings, emotions and add another level to the relationships within the story and yes the story would not be complete if there was not the trials and tribulation of love which manifest in many forms throughout this story.

In the beginning, Victoria believes that there is only one definition and meaning to a flower but as the story progresses the reader and Victoria are introduced to the idea that this is not necessarily the case. The author’s own research has found that there are hundreds of different dictionaries with unique and yes contradictory meanings. You are perhaps asking  –  does this complicate the story? Does it become too complex? My answer, but you will of course need to make your own opinion, is that the multiple definitions complement the characters and open up a wonderful thread which could be explored perhaps  in a book group. I have planted the seed …

White anemones…  http://www.flickr.com/photos/gracemillerphotography/

As a slight aside and perhaps a slight digression the favourite flower which has been passed through generations in my family from my great grandmother through to my nanna down to my mum and now a favourite of mine,  is the Anenome  . You may already be aware but the language of this flower is, from a mythological angle means ‘forsaken’ .   Greek mythology states that the anemone sprang from Aphrodite‘s tears as she mourned the death of Adonis.

On a lighter note, though, it can also symbolize unfading love, luck, anticipation, and protection against evil. When their heads show in my wedding bouquet I know where my language will be.

The language of flowers is a fascinating area and although perhaps some of the dictionaries have fallen out of fashion, the communication and symbolism through the act of sending flowers is thankfully still there. Perhaps this novel will re-awaken the demand for flower dictionaries!

Back to the event…

Before closing for delicious homemade cake and tea in true afternoon tea style, there was an opportunity to ask a few questions. Many of the questions centred on Vanessa’s background and her experience of the care system and fostering. Although this context should not matter it was wonderful to hear that her own experience of looking after children who were unwanted by their own family when she had just graduated, whilst  at the same time meeting her husband to be, was, (forgive the tea analogy), the icing on the cake. The passion and genuine love she had for these children whilst still being in effect a student was truly wonderful. This question gave her a perfect position to comment on the system in America and to introduce the wonderful campaign work she is doing over in the States, where she hopes to engage Hollywood stars in the cause. The commitment and passion from a young woman with a young family (her husband and her two children had joined her for the three day tour around the UK) was truly inspirational.

The finale if we need one was that she is in the process of writing a second novel –  she is half way through and she did also mention the prospect of a film –  watch this space.

Final thanks to the Chorleywood Bookshop ladies for a wonderful event.

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Author: Berkhamsted School Library

Main aims for Berkhamsted School Library • to provide a central resource for the whole school curriculum • to encourage an ethos of enquiry and discovery • to assist pupils in becoming confident and independent learners • to develop research and information skills throughout the school • to offer resources which enrich cultural values and experiences for pupils, as well as have a role in their recreational life and promote reading for pleasure as a lifelong activity

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