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Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan

Moll Gladney is a quiet girl, not known to cause troubles to her devout and hardworking parents. But one night she disappears from her house and life in rural Ireland without leaving behind a reason or goodbye. What could have caused her leaving? Is she pregnant? Dead? She leaves behind a whole in her parents’ lives and hearts, a silence that seems all-consuming. And then, years later, as suddenly as she had disappeared Moll returns to Knockagowny but the silence does not lift from the Gladney home. Neither of her parents can bring themselves to ask where she had been, why she had left, and why she had not even left a note? Secrecy surrounds the returnee, until a stranger appears in the village, a stranger who claims to know the Gladney’s daughter. Revelations are hinted at, the veil of secrecy lifted and then dropped again. Explanations are offered, but are they really desired?

Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan explores love in all its shapes and forms. It is a story of losing and finding, of isolation and belonging, of leaving and returning and a multigenerational tale of family. All of this is wrapped in language that is poetic and beautiful, it floods over you in waves. Long sentences create a strong atmosphere of longing for an unknown destination but also provoke impatience in face of the silence and secrets that rules this family. Perhaps Strange Flowers can best be described as bitter sweet. The gentleness with which love is described, how its seeds are planted, how it is fostered and grows in different relations in this short novel is heart-warming; the exploration of tolerance, acceptance and growth is masterfully executed. Ryan presents and interrogates his characters with compassion. Their flaws are investigated but tolerated, they are left space to learn and change. Strange Flowers is a deeply moving account of individual and social change, from the small and quiet to the grand and world-changing. And thought I was impatient sometimes with the lack of answers, this book left me in that bitter sweet feeling of longing for more answers while also satisfied to let the characters go, to carry on with their lives.

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