“A Memory of Violets” by Hazel Gaynor is a charming and touching historical fiction about two sets of sisters whose stories are told through narrative, correspondence and entries in a diary.
One of the two sets of sisters is Florrie and Rosie, who try to eke out an existence selling flowers and watercress near the Covent Garden flower markets. Their lives are filled with poverty and hunger. Rosie cannot see well, and when their mother dies, Florrie must try to care for Rosie. While selling flowers one day, Rosie disappears. Florrie never stops looking for her sister and never stops thinking about her. Their story begins in 1876.
Tilly grows up in the north of England. She’s the daughter of a blacksmith and very different from her sister. While Tilly loves running outside and riding like the wind, her younger sister Esther prefers to be ladylike and proper. While out one day together, Esther is injured and Tilly’s life changes forever. The story of Tilly and Esther begins in 1912.
There is something else that almost becomes a character in the story — the group of homes created for the crippled and blind flower sellers at that time. Florrie ends up living at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. Tilly, years later, goes there to work as an assistant housemother. Once there, she comes upon a diary and some belongings of Florrie’s, and that spurs her curiosity. She begins to investigate Rosie’s disappearance.
The story is beautifully written. The bits of information given through the narrative, the letters (with the anonymous donation to the home for the flower girls), the way Gaynor slowly allows the reader to learn the circumstances of both sisters’ early lives, keep the interest. The story also is fascinating because of the meticulous research that Gaynor did in coming up with the facts about the lives of the poor children who worked selling the bits of flowers in the streets of London. Many were lucky enough to be taken in by Mr. Shaw’s Home, where they lived safely and worked making flowers that were incredibly realistic and which became extremely popular.
Gaynor’s descriptions makes the scenes come to life — the clues, the twists — she brings it all together beautifully, and the story is by turns horrifying, touching, and lovely. Fans of historical fiction will love this story. Those who enjoy reading about families and what makes a family, as well as about love and redemption, will also enjoy this novel.
Please note: This review is based on the final trade paperback book provided by William Morrow for review purposes.
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