A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers

Written by Hazel Gaynor
Review by Amy Watkin

This lovely novel moves between London in 1912 and London in 1876 to tell the stories of two young women whose relationships with their sisters become shrouded in tragedy. We meet Tilly Harper in 1912, as she leaves her Lake District home for London, glad to be moving away from a place where she feels unloved by her mother and guilty for her sister’s mysterious accident. As assistant housemother at Violet House, one of Mr. Shaw’s Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls, Tilly finds an old journal left behind by Florrie Flynn, a flower girl who once stayed in the same room. The smell of violets envelops Tilly as she learns of Florrie and her dear sister and tries to solve a mystery that may end up explaining her own life, as well.

The flower girls are the real stars of the story, as Gaynor skillfully weaves in historical information about these destitute, often disabled, girls who were taken in and taught to make silk flowers, bringing enterprise, beauty, and hope to a city that had tried to abandon them.

The tale of Florrie and her sister is a bit heavy-handed after a while, as told through Florrie’s journal. Readers know early on what the fate of Florrie’s sister is, so Florrie’s repeated claims that she could never stand to lose her sister seem to force from readers a depth of feeling that could have been treated with more subtlety. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt attached to several characters, but particularly Tilly. The historical information was gracefully inserted, and I did not want the book to end. I would love to read a sequel about Tilly and Mr. Shaw’s flower girls.