Monday, March 29, 2021

Book Review: Flowers of Darkness

By Jami Denison

Ask any writer what she needs to finish her latest project, and most will reply with that timeless Virginia Woolf answer – a room of her own. Freed from mundane responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, child care, and that pesky day job, most of us wannabe writers have a fantasy that if only we could isolate ourselves in a home fully equipped to serve our writing needs, we’d be quickly finishing our masterpieces. 

In Tatiana de Rosnay’s new book, Flowers of Darkness, author Clarissa Katsef is given an opportunity to live in such a place, a modern artist’s colony where her every need is taken care of by her apartment’s AI assistant, whom she’s named Mrs. Dalloway. Reeling from the abrupt break-up of her marriage and anxious to work on her latest novel, Clarissa, a British citizen living in Paris who’s fluent in both languages, is at first grateful and impressed at life in the modern building. But soon she starts to feel like she’s being spied on, and that something sinister is going on.

The book’s throughline reminded me a lot of Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door. But there’s a lot more going on in de Rosnay’s story than just a creepy apartment building, and some of the elements don’t gel together seamlessly. There’s the backstory about the breakup of Clarissa’s marriage, which de Rosnay hints at but doesn’t dwell on. Another backstory about the breakup of her first marriage long ago, and the sadness that tore it apart. The story takes place in a future Paris, year unknown, in which terrorists have destroyed the Eiffel Tower (it’s remembered in a hologram), climate change causes life-threatening heat waves in Europe, and Brexit has isolated Great Britain. Clarissa’s fascination with Virginia Woolf and author Romain Gary—both writers who killed themselves—hint of a dark ending to come.

De Rosnay’s writing style isn’t a complete match for the psychological thriller at the heart of this novel, and I had trouble getting into the book. It took me until I was about twenty percent into the book before I was completely committed to finishing it. The character of Clarissa is compelling, however. As a grandmother with a teenage granddaughter, she’s older than the usual protagonist in psychological thrillers, and her life story adds a gravitas that’s sometimes missing in stories featuring twentysomethings who’ve just recently left the nest. 

Overall, though, I’m just not sure that all the disparate threads come together tightly enough. Some threads are much more interesting than others. Some plots conclude with shattering revelations, while others are anticlimactic. De Rosnay, however, is a captivating writer—her novel Sarah’s Key was made into a movie—and for many readers, her name alone is enough of a reason to pick up the book. Although plot-wise the future de Rosnay offers in Flowers of Darkness is a bleak one, thematically hope springs eternal as humans always seem to find a way to carry on. 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press  for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Tatiana de Rosnay:

1 comment:

Ann S. said...

I agree with the above assessment. Intriguing idea for a mystery novel, but the ending somehow is not complete. Author did not tie up several loose ends.