The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

‘Each flower is a secret language.’

From the opening sentence, this novel held my attention:

‘In the weatherboard house at the end of the lane, nine-year-old Alice Hart sat at her desk by the window and dreamed of ways to set her father on fire.’

It didn’t take me long to appreciate why Alice might want to set her father on fire: Clem Hart is an abusive, violent man who controls Alice and her mother Agnes. When tragedy strikes the Hart family, Alice is sent to live with her paternal grandmother: June. Because Clem was estranged from his mother, Alice did not know her. Imagine: a nine-year-old child, having to move away from the place she knew as home, to live with a grandmother she did not know existed. I kept reading. June Hart farms Australian native flowers, with the help of a group of women known as the Flowers. Each of the Flowers has her own story, and we’ll learn some of them. It’s a supportive environment for Alice, who grows to adulthood learning about the language of flowers. There’s a future for Alice, if she wants it, running the farm.

‘Speaking through flowers had become the language she most relied on.’

But life is complicated, and Alice leaves the farm and makes her way into the central Australian desert. Will she find what she’s looking for? Is it a place she needs, or simply the time and space to remember? Each chapter is linked to a native flower, each flower is significant in Alice’s journey.

‘Trust your story. All you can do is tell it true.’

I’d like to write more about the story, but my descriptions and interpretations could well spoil a first time read. I found it difficult to put this book down and yet I had to sometimes in order to try to integrate what I’d read. I wanted Alice (and June) to make different choices at times: I wanted the road to be less tortuous, the choices to be simpler. I wanted Alice not to have to repeat mistakes to learn from them. In short, Alice got under my skin in a way that few fictional characters do. I finished the novel wanting more, but confident that Alice had found her own way.

This is Ms Ringland’s first novel: I hope it is the first of many.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. The cover and internal illustrations by Edith Rewa Barrett are beautiful and I’ll be buying my own copy of this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith