Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II. At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died.Read more...
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Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II. At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died. A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories. Flora, her late mother's twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen. Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.
This darkly beautiful novel about a child and a caretaker in isolation evokes shades of The Turn of the Screw and also harks back to Godwin's memorable novel of growing up, The Finishing School. With its house on top of a mountain and a child who may be a bomb that will one day go off, Flora tells a story of love, regret, and the things we can't undo. It will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
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A child of grief and ghosts
For 10-year-old Helen, spending the summer cooped up in her family’s crumbling hilltop manse with her late mother’s fragile cousin is just the latest indignity in a young life punctuated by loss, longing and lamentation.
In Gail Godwin’s luminous new novel, Flora, the best-selling author has once again breathed life into a child heroine, weaving a narrative that is both plaintive and charming, and above all, almost eerily authentic in capturing the linguistic patois and emotional nuances of youth during the final months of World War II. Readers who have enjoyed Godwin’s 13 previous novels, including Unfinished Desires, The Finishing School and Father Melancholy’s Daughter, will recognize echoes of some of her prevailing themes, including a small-town North Carolina setting, the enchantment of first love and, above all, the devastation of childhood abandonment.
Darkly hypnotic, mesmerizing and magical, Godwin’s latest novel is not to be missed.
While Helen has only vague memories of her own mother, who died when she was 3 years old, the recent death of her beloved grandmother, Honora, has left her paralyzed with grief, guilt and anger. After Helen’s father—a sarcastic and often soused school principal who has never recovered from his young wife’s death—accepts a summer job in Tennessee, he recruits his late wife’s cousin, 22-year-old Flora, to care for his daughter in his absence. Neurotic, albeit kind-hearted and lovable, Flora is painfully eager to please her young charge, but the prickly Helen is determined to remain aloof and impenetrable.
While this coming-of-age novel unfolds in the shape of a tragic love triangle involving Helen, Flora and a mysterious young veteran, Finn, Godwin gives a subtle nod to the Southern Gothic, giving readers a shiver or two with the shadowy presence of house ghosts known as “The Recoverers”—previous residents for whom the eccentric old manse served as a boarding house and a haven as they recovered from the ravages of alcoholism and mental illness.
Readers are sure to be enchanted by this darkly hypnotic novel. Godwin has once again crafted a mesmerizing and magical tale, inhabited by characters whose pathos will linger long after Flora reaches its hauntingly eloquent final pages.