The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
By Holly Ringland
Publication date: 19 March 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins 4th Estate
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. (Harper Collins Australia)
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is one of the runaway success Australian novels of 2018 and I’m so pleased that this happened with a novel that takes the reader on journey from the lush canefields of the east coast to the red desert heart of Australia.
Alice’s story moves through a heartbreaking childhood to a heartbreaking but ultimately redemptive adulthood. While the story material is dark at times, the text is imbued with the beauty of Australian wildflowers and local settings, and the novel is never harrowing.
I was awed by how deftly Holly Ringland deals with some of Australia’s most dreadful open secrets. Stories nestle together inside the book like blossoms on a wattle, from library books and Indigenous folklore to characters’ real stories and histories packaged and kept away from their rightful owners. I’m desperately trying not to include spoilers here so will move on from plot to setting!
This novel made me miss Queensland and its people, the various characters so recognisable from cleverly observed dialogue and the various settings rendered powerfully. Gardeners and botanists will love the way that Holly Ringland gives Australian wildflowers a long-deserved mystique with Alice’s family’s Victorian-inspired language of flowers. With typical sensitivity, Ringland does not neglect the meanings of flowers and other symbols in Indigenous Australian and other cultures and languages.
This is probably not a novel for readers who can’t stand description, though I felt that the action moved at a good pace. The only time I had to take a break from the novel was when yet another awful thing was done to Alice, but I found that the story quickly moved on. Other reviewers have described the novel as ‘enchanting’, ‘captivating’, ‘lush,’ and ‘transformative’ and I highly recommend it as top-notch contemporary Australian commercial fiction.