There is a special bond between flowers and our emotions. We use them to bring cheer and we quietly turn to the beauty when we need to cry. They are an emotional bond for our psyches when we need them. And that is the brilliant bond that Holly Ringland brings to her book The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.
The ritual was to walk to the sea and lie on the sand staring up at the sky. With her mother’s gentle voice telling the way, they took winter train trips across Europe, through landscapes with mountains so tall you couldn’t see their tops, and ridges so smothered in snow you couldn’t see the line separating the white sky from white earth. They wore velvet coasts in the cobblestoned city of a tattooed kin, where the harbour buildings were as colourful as a box of paints, and a mermaid sat, cast in bronze, forever awaiting love. Alice often closed her eyes, imagining that every thread in her mother’s stories might spin them into the centre of a chrysalis, from which they could emerge and fly away.
When Alice was six years old, her mother tucked her into her bed one evening, leant forward and whispered in her ear. You’re old enough now to help me in my garden. Alice squirmed with excitement; her mother usually left her with a book while she gardened alone. We’ll start tomorrow, Agnes said before she turned out the light. Repeatedly through the night, Alice woke to peer through the dark windows. At last she saw the first thread of light in the sky and threw her sheets back.
Ringland has written a well-thought out and detailed story here. Readers witness the life of the protagonist Alice through several different stages in her life. In the midst of Alice’s brutal and hurtful existence at times, there exists the wonder of flora and thrill of nature that provides not only comfort but a means of escape for her. Ringland’s masterful prose and simplistic style makes this book a pleasure to slide into to read.
She glanced towards the gum tree, thinking about the names carved into its trunk. The river is another story altogether, June had said when they’d been in the flower field together. It’s belonged to my family for generations. Out family. Alice looked down through the water, at her feet on the sandy bottom. Was a river a thing that could ever be owned? Wouldn’t that be like someone trying to say they owned the sea? Alice knew that when you were init, the sea owned you. Still, the thought that she was somehow a part of this place filled a small space inside her with warmth. Overhead a kookaburra burbled. Alice nodded. Enough thinking. She took a step forward and sank into the swirling green water, leaving all her unasked questions on the surface.
The sweet and absolute absence of salt shocked her. Her eyes didn’t sting. She exhaled bubbles and watched them rise and pop. The heart of the river beat in Alice’s ears. Her father told her once that ll water eventually ran to the same source. A new question bloomed: could she swim down river, through time all the way home?
Ringland has documented strong elements of the human condition here that readers crave to understand about themselves and their lives. This isn’t a book that should be rushed through. It is detailed and well-written and needs to be carefully reflected on. There are elements that she touches on that occur to not only ourselves but to our friends and family members. There are hard truths and mistakes that are part of the protagonist’s story that enable those of us who want understand the world better need to learn about.
Alice was grateful for the low light, hoping it hid her face. Lulu dipped her sponge in the suds bucket and began scrubbing the windscreen.
‘You’ve slept with him, haven’t you?’ Alice asked quietly.
Lulu glanced at her. Cast her eyes away. ‘I just don’t want you to get hurt.’
Alice’s head was spinning. She couldn’t bear the thought of them together, of him being with anyone but her.
Lulu wiped the windscreen down and dunked the sponge back in the bucket, sighing. ‘I don’t know what you’ve left behind but I know you’ve come here to put yourself back together,’ she said. ‘So do it, chica. You keep banging on about how much you love my place and would love yours to be like it, but you keep living like you’re a nun. Decorate. Embellish. Use you weekends for adventures, go exploring. There’s so much more around her than just the crater, like there’s a gorge not far from her that you have to see at sunset to believe. So, grow. Please. Grow your life here.’ Lulu pointed to her heart. ‘Don’t give everything you’ve got to someone who isn’t worth it.’
There is detailed growth and wisdom in the book The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. It’s descriptions are vivid and – if read in a calm manner – depicts elements of the human condition that need to be consider. In short, a brilliant read.