The media has been focused on a major debut coming from a division of Random House, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday, 9/13).
Meanwhile, another major debut, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, from another Random House division, Ballantine (Audio, Random House Audio and Books on Tape and OverDrive; Large Print, Thorndike), was released to less media fanfare yesterday. Reviews are mixed, but they contain hints that the book will be a hit.
Despite its old-fashioned sounding title and elegant cover, the book is actually about a gritty subject, how foster care often harms kids. Victoria, who has grown up in the system in present day San Francisco, is newly on her own and homeless. Her background makes it difficult for her to trust people, but her knowledge of the secret messages conveyed by flowers leads to a job and finally a satisfying life.
In yesterday’s review on NPR’s Web site, under the pun-filled headline, “Overly Rosy Premise Proves Thorny In Flowers,” Rachel Syme makes an effort to talk herself down from enjoying the book,
As invigorating as [the language of flowers] is as a literary device, it does border on a gimmick — the overreaching and common curse of debut novels. It all seems to tie together too neatly…Where Diffenbaugh sees plot holes, she simply fills them with flowers.
Nevertheless, it leaves a lasting impression
The language of flowers, as illuminated through Victoria’s words and a special appendix, turns out to be an addictive preoccupation: Once you know that peonies represent anger; basil, hate; and red carnations, heartbreak, every supermarket bouquet takes on a new significance.
The Wall Street Journal throws in a few digs before ending on a positive note:
The Language of Flowers has been as carefully conceived and executed as a handmade wedding bouquet to appeal to readers accustomed to seeing their heroines sink into depths of despair before emerging to claim hard-won redemption. But if the novel is predictable, it is also lucid and lovely—Ms. Diffenbaugh has found a vibrant way to tell a familiar story of rift (Carolina jasmine) and reconciliation (hazel).
Both reviews attest, if condescendingly, to the book’s appeal for book clubs:
NPR; ‘The combination of harrowing orphan story and delicate exploration of a Victorian art form will be catnip for book clubs and airborne readers.”
WSJ; “Victoria’s emotional journey through the tunnel of her memories to the light of second chances is a staple of best-selling and book-club fiction”
The language of flowers may not be as antique as it seems. The UK’s Daily Mail sees a revival, both because of the book, which is a bestseller there, and because Kate Middleton used what is technically called “floriography” to choose the flowers for her wedding bouquet and the Royal wedding cake.
The book is now at #669 on Amazon sales rankings, but at a much higher #46 on B&N.com, where it is promoted on the home page under ”Cool Books: Titles We’re Talking About.” Some libraries are showing heavy holds.