Title: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Author: Holly Ringland
Published: March 19th 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Australian
Rating: 5 stars
The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength.
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.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a rare beauty. It is one of those novels that quietly sneaks up on you and unleashes its power. I have a feeling that The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is destined to remain by my side for some time yet. It is a fierce and assured piece of writing that makes a solid commentary on family dynamics, domestic drama and self discovery. It is a mighty feat for a new writer, but Holly Ringland demonstrates she is a force to be reckoned with.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart revolves around the haunting but unforgettable tale of a beautiful soul named Alice. We are first introduced to a vulnerable Alice when she is nine years old. At this point in her life, Alice lives on the coast, cut off from society, at the beck and call of her overly controlling father and suppressed mother. When a tragedy strikes at the heart of Alice’s existence, she is taken into the care of her grandmother, a woman she did not know existed. Alice’s Grandmother June,whisks Alice away to her prospering flower farm. At this native flower farm, Alice meets a group of women who are also trying to heal from their own traumatic experiences. Alice eventually finds a connection and a sense of solace from the women, as well as the work on the farm. As the years go by, Alice develops a one of a kind aptitude for the native flowers she works with, this special gift highlights Alice’s unique ability to speak the special language of flowers. What Alice cannot shake from her system as she comes into her own are the lies and secrets that are linked to her family legacy. It all comes to a head when Alice is betrayed by someone close to her and she ends of fleeing the farm. In time, Alice comes to the realisation that she cannot hide behind the language of flowers and that her own story must be revealed.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a metamorphic tale and one that literally took my breath away. I completely understand now why this book has been given a fair amount of hype, the attention it is receiving is completely warranted. After reading this novel, which has left a strong imprint on my heart and mind, I can understand why it was auctioned off when it initially received many publishing offers. The beauty of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart extends the whole way through this novel.
This is a novel that is as beautiful on the outside as the inside. I think The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart will take the prize for the best cover of design of the year, it does a superb job of capturing the true essence of this novel. Once you open The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, you will be taken aback by the attractiveness of the interior of the book. Included are some of the most stunning black and white prints of native Australian flowers I have ever encountered in a novel. I know I found myself looking forward to turning each page over to see what flower design treat I was in for next. I also liked how each chapter opening was adorned with and linked to a particular native flower. Ringland is careful in her selection of each flower, as it reflects the inner struggle of the main character Alice, as her life progresses in the novel. At the same time, these chapter prefaces read like a native flora guidebook, which subtlety educates the reader in the field of native flowers.
Ringland takes a vivid and full bodied approach to her characters. She strives to insert as much heart and soul as she can in her characters. I felt so much for these protagonists, both the good and the bad ones. Alice is incredible individual and I adored her engrossing journey. Following Alice over the book’s roughly twenty year period really allows the reader to get a good feel for the character of Alice. I mourned her losses, felt her achievements, fell in love with her and banged the table when she made her mistakes. Alice is such a real character that she bounces off the pages and into your heart with little effort. Ringland’s secondary character set are precise, complex in nature and well drawn. The peripheral characters, in particular the women Alice encounters in her life, reminds the audience of the true nature of friendship and loyalty.
The setting in The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is quite breathtaking and forms the lifeblood of this novel. The landscape shifts a few times in this novel, from the coast, to the rural landscape of the flower farm, to lastly the arid desert, where Alice attempts to find herself. There were many spots in the novel where the setting and the related sharpness of the prose impressed me immensely. The scenes involving Alice’s coming of age in the flower farm were by far my favourite sections of the novel. These passages were a pure delight, all my senses and emotions were in overdrive while I was reading through these scenes. Ringland clearly knows how to transport her reader to the locations of her novel with ease.
There are some powerful and highly relevant themes explored in The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, all of which are subjected to the accomplished hand of Holly Ringland. While there is heartbreaking sadness in the form of loss, domestic violence, lost love, betrayal, long held secrets, survival and trauma. On the other hand, there are themes of renewal, acceptance and self fulfillment. It takes real skill to balance the careful dichotomy between sadness and hope, but Ringland gets it just right. As a debut writer, I was blown away by her talent.
I urge all readers to open their hearts and minds to The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. It is one fiercely contemporary sojourn and an enchanting testament to Australia’s natural world, which I will not let slip from my memory. Judging from the positive reception Holly Ringland’s first novel has received, I can foresee a bright future ahead for this accomplished writer.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland was published on 19th March 2018 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is book #33 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge