The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart…
About the Book:
An enchanting and captivating novel, about how our untold stories haunt us – and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family’s story. In her early twenties, Alice’s life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice’s unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.
Guilt, grief, and the toxic effect of harbouring family secrets play out in this enchanting and heartfelt novel by debut Australian author, Holly Ringland. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story that orbits around wildflowers. The book itself is utterly gorgeous, from the cover through to the artwork detailed throughout. The chapters are each named for a specific wildflower/bush/grass that directly relates to the themes contained within. The meaning is given for each, along with a short description of the characteristics. This was a delightfully unique touch that culminated in greater importance by the end of the novel.
This is not a light story though and should be approached with caution if you’ve ever experienced family violence. The first 70 odd pages contain themes that may have a trigger effect for some readers. In saying this though, I will point out that Holly Ringland handled this with great sensitivity. There’s something about her writing though that really gets under your skin. It’s more in what she leaves unsaid than in any explicit renderings. The narrative sweeps along, visually appealing as well as deeply heartfelt. There were many moments throughout where I breaked from reading for reflection.
Character development is strong within this novel and we get a full range of personalities and interactions. Holly Ringland brought her characters to life with such vivid realism, and consequently, I found myself developing strong feelings for many. I felt protective of Alice, right the way through. I adored Candy and Twig, the two women who brought Alice up alongside her grandmother June, but as to June herself, I pretty much loathed her and thought she was incredibly selfish. She made some questionable choices – on more than one occasion – that had a detrimental effect on Alice’s well being. I really felt that much of what Alice went through in the latter part of the novel could be attributed to June’s dishonesty. Sally was a truly beautiful woman and I’m so glad she got the opportunity to play a greater part in Alice’s life. Sally did for Alice in adulthood what June should have done for her in childhood. Lulu was a fantastic friend and it gave me a lot of joy to see Alice make such a solid female friendship, a type of relationship that had been lacking in her life up until that point.
Alice is raised on an Australian wildflower farm, and her grandmother June teaches her the family tradition of speaking through flowers, something I found both beautiful and terrible all at once. Beautiful, because how lovely to be able to communicate a gesture or heartfelt moment with the right flower. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say, we just feel too much. But on the other hand, this family had communicated every important thing through flowers for so long that they no longer knew how to simply talk about the tough stuff, leading to terrible consequences and heartache for Alice. June hid her words behind flowers and let her own selfish desires determine her actions. It affected her son, Clem, and then reached into the next generation with Alice, who had difficulty as well with communicating when she really needed to. I liked how Alice overcame this at the end and made the language of flowers bend to her own will, using them to tell her story rather than using them to avoid confronting it.
I was disappointed to discover from the author notes that the setting that forms the backdrop of Alice working in the Outback was entirely made up. I understand why this is so, but the cultural history outlined and the description of the place held such a ring of truth that I was completely captivated by these parts. To find out after the fact that the place doesn’t exist was a bit of a let down. I read so much fiction inspired by fact that I’ve come to expect it with every novel now. On the flip side of this, the author details in her notes the lengths she went to in order to achieve this authenticity of setting and cultural presence, an impressive effort that certainly paid off. It may be made up, but it’s essence is grounded in truth.
All in all, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a deeply moving novel that will enchant, captivate, repel, and consume you all at once. I feel as though I haven’t even come close to covering all this novel contains but it is such an incredible story with so many themes and I’m loathe to delve too deep for fear of spoiling key plotlines. I’ll leave you now with my favourite scene of all, when a traumatised little girl first discovers the beauty of her new home.
“At the last window, Alice’s heart started racing. Behind the house and the shed, row upon row of different bushes and blooms stretched into fields for as far as she could see. She was surrounded by a sea of flowers.”
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia.
About the Author:
Holly Ringland grew up wild and barefoot in her mother’s tropical garden in Northern Australia. When she was nine years old, her family lived in a camper van for two years in North America, travelling from one national park to another, an experience that sparked Holly’s lifelong interest in cultures and stories. In her twenties, Holly worked for four years in a remote Indigenous community in the central Australian desert. She moved to England in 2009 and obtained her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester in 2011. She now lives between the UK and Australia. Holly’s essays and short fiction have been published in various anthologies and literary journals. In 2015, the first chapter of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart won Griffith Review’s annual writer award, which included a week-long fellowship at Varuna House, Australia’s top national writing residency.