An immersive, inventive, exquisitely crafted work of fiction.
By Randy Kraft
How wonderful to discover a new voice—not new in Europe, but to us. Valerie Perrin is a French screenwriter and photographer, also an award-winning novelist, but this is her first fiction to publish in English. The sort of book that calls to you when closed. Hard to put down.
Our unforgettable heroine, Violette, is a cemetery keeper. Note: the name, like the flower, signifies modesty, also faithfulness, and is said to be a good luck symbol for women, which it is, and isn’t for this Violette. Day and night, she arranges funerals and supervises groundskeeping. She keeps a journal of interments for those who could not be there, and many who visit loved ones regularly, she invites to tea. She comes to know the personal story of those encrypted, and the eccentricities of their burials, as if extended family, and we meet many of them through her reflections.
Violette understands that how we are buried reflects how we lived. Despite an early life of Dickensian hardship, and a catastrophic loss, she remains life affirming.
“I like giving life. Sowing, watering, harvesting. And starting again every year. I like life just as it is today. Bathed in sunshine, I like being the essence of things.”
When Violette is not recording, receiving visitors, planning events or gardening, or feeding a posse of cats, and a dog, who reside on the grounds, she spends time with a grand community of cohorts: the gravedigger, the mortuary brothers, the priest. She knows all their stories; they accept her without history. She appreciates the safety net.
“The weather is magnificent. The may sun caresses the soil I’m turning over. Three of the older cats rediscover chase after their imaginary mice together. A few wary blackbirds sing a bit further along. Eliane sleeps on her back, all four legs in the air.”
As much as Violette is present in the moment, she is haunted by her past and the thread of the novel is a series of interlocking revelations of what came before. A mystery to be solved and within which is a profound understanding of human frailty, and also the capacity to evolve. All of which is meant to force her to face her tragedy and embrace the future.
Each of the characters, dead or alive, is flawed, and ultimately woven together remarkably, and suspensefully, as we come to discover the truths Violette has avoided in order to heal.
It’s a glorious read. Touching, thought provoking, taut: a tribute our power to heal. Another must read.
A Europa edition in hardcover and for your favorite e-reader. Happy reading.