Fresh Water for Flowers

This tender literary novel (496 pages) was published in May of 2021 by Europa Editions. The book takes you to a small town in Burgundy, France. Melissa read Fresh Water for Flowers and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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Fresh Water for Flowers

Valérie Perrin, Hildegarde Serle (translator)

This novel is trés français in the way it explores big life themes like love, death, and betrayal — and swings from whimsy to heartbreak, sometimes on the same page.

Our narrator and heroine is Violette Toussaint. She’s middle-aged now, a cemetery keeper in a small town in Burgundy, France. Her closest neighbors are in their graves, and she feels at home among the lost and bereaved, having endured tragedy herself.

But despite her troubled past — a difficult upbringing, her no-good husband who’s gone on the lam, and the one terrible day that tore a hole in her heart — she’s shaped a good life for herself. It’s marked by sweet friendships and small pleasures: an evening drink, a conversation with a friend, a favorite pink frock hidden beneath an appropriately somber gray cloak.

Then one day, a detective named Julien knocks on her door. Julien has a mystery about his life that needs to be unraveled, and he’s the catalyst for Violette to unearth her past, too.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Violette’s daily life at the cemetery and the twists of fate that brought her to the tiny house inside its gates. We meet her social circle — three gravediggers, three undertakers, and a priest — who provide welcome comic relief. We also meet the cemetery’s residents in bittersweet flashes of memory. And alongside Violette, we come to know (and love) Julien.

It’s impossible not to treasure Violette, a kind, open woman who clawed her way back to life, deliberately choosing goodness and grace over grief.

My name is Violette Toussaint… I’m a cemetery keeper. I savor life, I sip at it, like jasmine tea sweetened with honey. And when evening comes, and the gates to my cemetery are closed, and the key is hanging on my bathroom door, I’m in heaven. Not the heaven of my closest neighbors. No. The heaven of the living: a mouthful of the port — 1983 vintage — that José-Luis Fernandez brings… me every September 1st. A remnant of the holidays poured into a small crystal glass, a kind of Indian summer that I uncork at around 7 P.M., come rain, or snow, or gale. Two thimblefuls of ruby liquid… I close my eyes. And enjoy. A single mouthful is enough to brighten my evening… My present life is a present from heaven. As I say to myself every morning, when I open my eyes.

I have been very unhappy, destroyed even. Nonexistent. Drained… Without the weight of my soul, which, apparently, whether you’re fat or thin, tall or short, young or old, weighs twenty-one grams. But since I’ve never had a taste for unhappiness, I decided it wouldn’t last. Unhappiness has to stop someday. — Valérie Perrin

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