Set in the nineties, this first-person narrative is a tender tale of life’s journey. Initially, one can luxuriate in simplicity of university life until the narrative and the mystery begin to unfold. Flora, ‘beautiful and talented’ is an engaging, likeable character from the outset. Letters to Flora’s unborn child will be constructed from her inner dialogue.
The people in Flora’s life construct the narrative threads. Although, surrounded by supportive friends and family, Flora is secretive. Friends and family love Flora and there are tender moments. For instance, the letter that Flora’s father writes to the unborn child is incredibly moving. Her mother’s silent support is beautiful while support from her friends evoke humour. The constant in the narrative is the developing relationship that Flora has with Little Bump. Flora’s experience of her difficult pregnancy and analysis of her relationships pull the reader into the story. Is Flora hiding something? Each time it seems as if a mystery has been solved, the narrative moves on. Initially, the mystery of the child’s father intrigues. The reader longs for a certain man to be the father, yet the undertones of something unsettling unnerves and nudges the reader.
As you get to know Flora, you want to protect and support her and Little Bump. Flora’s need to confide in Little Bump successfully confirms her loneliness. One questions if she is truly’ happy’. Flora seems naïve, vulnerable yet she successfully analyses her role in the two relationships in her life. She explores how the relationships developed and moulded to the circumstances. The juxtaposition of the two relationships reveal insight into Flora’s psyche. With one lover, she experienced the ‘distant music that guided our feet and our entwined bodies did the rest’. This is juxtaposed with ‘I winced. I glared around the small pungent smelling storeroom.’ Here, the discomfort is clearly signified in the language choices and reinforced through the punctuation. One wants to warn Flora but was she already aware of it? She is a clever student.
The plot moves in and out of contrasting past experiences with the two lovers. Flora is ‘not entirely comfortable’, at times, and neither is the reader. Humour is contrasted with despair. A secretive, cliched relationship is compared with a natural, good humoured relationship. Surely, the unconfessed love that she ‘wished [she] had told him’ is the shadow that is pressing on Flora’s mind. Her memories of happier times provide support for Flora during the isolation of her pregnancy. Williams skilfully builds layers of intrigue. Flora becomes trapped in events and her silence. She admits that:
‘It is all a cruel game, this life of mine, as I begin to lose track of what is real and what isn’t.’
The real cruelty isn’t fully in focus until the end of the novel. This novel is intriguing and offers far more than the blurb promises. I completed the novel in the early hours of the morning as I could not abandon Flora. This is a powerful exploration of a mother’s love for her unborn child, first love, seduction and love for family and friends. Williams successfully explores some complex and challenging themes and places betrayal at the core.
This is a clever debut novel that will move you.