Violets, according to flower lore, symbolize faithfulness. This is one of the main themes, as the title suggests, of A Memory of Violets (February 2015), Hazel Gaynor’s second novel. Set in London, it tells of two young women whose stories parallel each other with common themes and experiences. In 1876 Flora (Florrie) Flynn, a crippled, orphaned flower seller, loses her younger, blind sister, Rosie, in the streets of London. She spends her life faithfully searching and writing to Rosie in a small diary in the hopes she will be found. In 1912 Matilda (Tilly) Harper works as a housemother for Albert Shaw’s Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls where she finds Florrie’s diary hidden in the back of a large wardrobe. Tilly, forever bound to her father and guilt-ridden by her own younger sister’s tragic accident, seeks forgiveness and a sense of belonging. As she reads Florrie’s words written decades ago, Tilly vows to learn the fate of the two estranged sisters while struggling with her own reconciliations. What transpires throughout the surprising, tightly-written plotline is a heartwarming story not only of loss and faithfulness, but of forgiveness and rekindled love.
Gaynor, a talented author well-known in England and Ireland, has a profoundly rich writing style that faithfully (pun intended) captures the harsh, impoverished world of London’s disabled orphan flower sellers and the efforts of John Groom, fictionalized as Albert Shaw, to provide a haven for them. And while it would have been more interesting had she used Groom’s real name and the contents of an addendum to enrich her plot, this author flavors each of her characters with such true-to-life likability that it is difficult not to cheer each of them on as they bud, bloom, and blossom under her loving care. Not to be too flowery, but Gaynor’s literary talent is a virtual garden of delights, deeply rooted in this historical novel.
While a great, rosy read, splendidly reminiscent of the worlds of Downton Abbey and Peaky Blinders, A Memory of Violets is not without its own few, minor thorns, too miniscule to mention and easily overlooked as Gaynor deftly weaves each of the characters’ stories together. Like an exacting, assiduous gardener, she twists, turns, and grows their lives together with delightful surprises, like so many individual ivy plants twisting entwining, and growing together to cover a garden wall. The ending is especially well-written; a bouquet of variegated themes neatly coming together in a satisfying, well-paced and beautifully placed arrangement. Sure to please discerning readers of historical literature, this novel is a warm, strong, and enriching tender tale of sisterly love spanning the great divides of time, life, and beyond…
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