The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Harper Collins 2018
I picked up The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart shortly after its release, and since then I’ve read it not just once, but twice. This is something that is highly unusual for me, particularly in such a short period. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland’s bestselling debut novel, has been out since March and since then the rights have been sold to a number of countries internationally.
Ringland takes her readers on a journey through Alice’s harrowing life and her healing process. Wounded by secrets and lies, Alice truly comes into her own when she is allowed to live her life as herself, exploring her talent for writing, embracing her family, and preparing for her next journey.
The novel’s opening is dedicated to Alice’s childhood among the sugar canes with her mother, her father, and her little deaf dog Toby. Her mother was loving and unfortunately prone to periods of depression, but her father was volatile; Alice liked it better when he wasn’t there. Toby was just Toby, her first and best friend. But beneath this basic information we see something more sinister. We see this in the bruises on Agnes, Alice’s pregnant mother, or Alice never going into town, even for school. After a fire on their property destroys everything, Alice is left orphaned of both parents, her baby-brother and her speech.
Terrified and unable to protest, Alice is taken by her absent grandmother to her new home at Thornfield. Alice makes a life there with the women on the flower farm and the boy next door, Oggi. She grows up among the flowers with June, Twig, and Candy Baby, but Alice has always wanted something more. She longs to get away. It’s only when Oggi and Alice decide to run away to Bulgaria together that Alice’s life once again takes a dramatic turn. Oggi leaves for Bulgaria without her and without even an explanation. Furious and confused, Alice does the only thing she can: she continues her work at Thornfield.
Alice was never meant to stay at Thornfield, and while June and the others only ever wanted to protect her, she kept Alice in the dark for her entire life. Truths have a way of slipping out and it is the truth of Oggi’s disappearance that drives Alice out into a night of torrential rain as flood threatens the flower farm. It is time for Alice to move on.
Alice is eager to live on her own and quickly finds that while finding her feet she will inevitably make mistakes along the way. When she meets Dylan, Alice is unable to stop thinking about him and as their relationship blossoms she misses the all-too-familiar warning signs that should have encouraged her to run. Instead she finds fault with herself, as many tend to do. It is only with the help of her friends and her family that Alice finds her way forward again, this time moving towards the truth and light that has always hidden behind the secrets and lies.
There is a lot of beautiful, floral language throughout the piece which some readers might criticise. However, I would say that it is important to the novel being a very poignant work to give both the reader time to process not just the story, but how they relate to the work.
The novel addresses several heavy issues including: child and domestic abuse, illegal immigration, conservation, alcoholism, and the treatment of Indigenous Australians and their culture. Not only does this work of fiction have a healing element, but encourages readers to consider these issues and their complexities.
The story revolves around all those things that remain unsaid. In life, it is impossible for June to admit why she never knew Alice prior to her parent’s death. As June never reveals this secret, Alice cannot deal with the guilt heavy on her heart over her parent’s deaths. Alice’s life is filled with unsaid things and it takes their revelation for her healing to begin.
Nature is presented as crucial to the healing process in a very unobtrusive way. Alice is always running for the ocean or the river, identifying flowers, going for walks, or tending to the farm. She is very in touch with the land, often remarking during her time in the dessert about the red earth and the dunes. This lends the novel an element of tranquillity as the reader must slow down and take it all in.
Ringland’s debut novel is unlike any other I’ve read before, taking the Victorian language of flowers and presenting it in an Australian context is a nice touch, drawing readers not just into the story but to the natural world around them. Set across the Australian landscape this novel demonstrates the diversity of our country and focuses on its beauty.
I absolutely loved this book. I loved it the first time and I loved it the second time. I would highly recommend it, particularly if you’re agitated as the language is very calming, the story engaging, and the introduction to floriography fascinating.
Words by Kayla Gaskell