A Memory of Violets:
A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers
By: Hazel Gaynor
Releasing February 3rd, 2015
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Hazel Gaynor comes a beautiful historical novel about Tilly Harper, a young woman who finds the diary of an orphaned flower seller who was separated from her sister in Victorian England, and her journey to learn the fate of the long lost sisters. Gaynor’s research into the events that inspire her novels is outstanding, and the world of the Victorian flower sellers on the streets of London in the late 1800s is utterly fascinating.
In 1912, twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves her sheltered home in the Lake District for a position as assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. Orphaned and crippled girls wander the twisted streets with posies of violets and cress to sell to the passing ladies and gentleman, and the Flower Homes provide a place for them to improve their lives of hardship.
When Tilly arrives at Mr. Shaw’s safe haven, she discovers a diary that tells the story of Florrie, a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after being separated from her sister Rosie. Tilly makes it her mission to find out what happened to young Rosie, and in the process learns about the workings of her own heart.
London. March, 1876
Mammy once told me that all flowers are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. “Same with babies,” she said, ’cause I was after saying that little baby Rosie looked like a rotten old turnip, what with her face all purple and scrunched up. “All babies look like rotten old turnips at first,” Mammy said. “She’ll be all smoothed out by Lady Day. You wait and see.”
She was, too. All smoothed out. After turning into a real pretty little thing she was then, ’specially with that hair. Red as the flames in the costers’ smudge pot fires.
“Sure, there’s no denying the Irish in that one.” That’s what Da said. Don’t think he ever spoke about Rosie again. Barely noticed her, other than to let out a roar at her or give her a wallop when she was after bawling too much. Awful mean to Little Sister, so he was, so I gave her all the love I could find in my heart, to try and make things nicer for her, like.
Truth be told, I loved little Rosie Flynn from the very first minute I set eyes on her—even with her squashed-up turnip face. I’d never had nothing of my own, not until Little Sister was born—my very own sister, what had lived. Not like them other poor babies what had been born all blue and quiet. Like wilted violets after the frosts, so they were. But not little Rosie. Pink as a carnation she was, bawlin’ good ’n’ proper in her vegetable pallet cradle, and there I was, smiling at her like a great eejit. Loved her to bits, so I did.
When Rosie was small, Mammy’d throw her into the shallow with the stock money and we’d head off to Covent Garden in the soot-black dark. You’ve to get to the Garden good ’n’ early, see—four or five o’clock—so as to get the pick of the best blooms after the shopkeepers have bought their stock. We’d leave our cold, stinking room at Rosemary Court and walk by the light of the gas lamps, Rosie’s little turnip face peeping out o’ the basket and Mammy striding along like a great ox.
“Keep up, will ye, Florrie Flynn,” she’d shout over her shoulder. “For the love of God, it’ll be Christmas before we get there at this rate.”
And I’d gallop along behind, clinging to her skirts so as not to get lost or snatched away by one of them bad men what takes little children and teaches them thievin’ and such—like the natty lads. As unsteady as a tune on a hurdy-gurdy machine, so I was, going up and down, up and down, my good leg dragging my bad one along as best it could. Awful painful it was, for me to walk. My leg won’t grow proper, see, ’cause of the polio I had as a baby. I’ve an old stick for a crutch, but it’s about as much use as a frozen water pump.
This was a beautiful story filled with plenty of emotion, and characters who latched onto my heart the second they were introduced. I was intrigued by both Tilly and Florrie’s stories, and the subtle but stunning way in which they were interwoven.
Tilly was a sweet girl whose life was anything but easy, and there was so much about certain circumstances she’d been through that mirrored Florrie’s, and I think Florrie’s worries and fears, her anguish and heartache that came through in her diary were relatable and even helped Tilly come to terms with her own situation.
This book flowed well, and I enjoyed how it flipped between the past and present, and how Gaynor gave insight into her characters without disrupting the story. I was able to understand Tilly more and I loved seeing her blossom throughout the book.
This was a heartrending story of family, love and courage. It was a great read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut novel THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A MEMORY OF VIOLETS is her second novel.
Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.
Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014.
Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.
For more information, visit Hazel’s website at http://www.hazelgaynor.com/ or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/hazelgaynorbooks or follow her on Twitter @HazelGaynor
(3 copies of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME by Hazel Gaynor)
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