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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quiet tale of regret and remorse
`There are things we can't undo, but perhaps there is a kind of constructive remorse that could transform regrettable acts into something of service to life'

This is a slow, quiet, sensitive book written with a kind of thoughtful precision. Helen looks back on the summer of 1945 when she turned 11, and when her mother's cousin, Flora, 22, came to look after...
Published 20 months ago by Roman Clodia

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lack of plot = dull read
It's 1945 and ten year old Helen is quarantined in the creaking old family home because of a polio scare. Her mother died when Helen was three years old and her beloved grandmother Nonie, who doted on her has just died. Helen's father Harry, has to leave home to undertake some sort of secret war work, and so asks twenty-three year old Flora, his late wife's cousin to stay...
Published 12 months ago by Jood


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lack of plot = dull read, 15 April 2014
By 
Jood (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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It's 1945 and ten year old Helen is quarantined in the creaking old family home because of a polio scare. Her mother died when Helen was three years old and her beloved grandmother Nonie, who doted on her has just died. Helen's father Harry, has to leave home to undertake some sort of secret war work, and so asks twenty-three year old Flora, his late wife's cousin to stay with Helen for the summer. This is not something Helen looks forward to.

Only a handful people come to the house - Mrs Jones who cleans the house weekly and has lengthy conversation with Rosemary, her dead daughter, and Finn who delivers the groceries and for whom Helen has developed almost an infatuation.

Helen is a precocious, manipulative child given to feelings of great superiority. She is highly imaginative, sneaky, and sarcastic and looks upon Flora with utter disdain. She is altogether a snotty brat who loves to be the centre of attention and when the spotlight is removed from her she resents it and immediately plots revenge.

Flora is the very opposite; she feels others pain and is reduced to tears at the slightest thing. She strikes me as a slightly dim-witted drama queen, often completely missing Helen's sarcasm. She is also, much to Helen's fury, very indiscreet, preferring to talk to anyone about anything and everything.

There are occasional flashes of humour - the section where one of Helen's friends tells her a few home truths is amusing.

This is very much a character driven novel, and as the characters were really quite disagreeable to me I just couldn't get on with it. It was such a slow read I couldn't wait to get to the last page; I prefer a novel that has a plot as well as characters I can sympathise with, even if they are flawed or disagreeable, rather than just irritating. The writing style is strange, too, and often felt as if it was set in Victorian times, not the mid 1940's, This is not a book I would recommend, and although the author is an accomplished and popular writer, this would not encourage me to read any of her other books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quiet tale of regret and remorse, 2 Sept. 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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`There are things we can't undo, but perhaps there is a kind of constructive remorse that could transform regrettable acts into something of service to life'

This is a slow, quiet, sensitive book written with a kind of thoughtful precision. Helen looks back on the summer of 1945 when she turned 11, and when her mother's cousin, Flora, 22, came to look after her. Set against a lightly sketched in background of America after the end of war in Europe but in the run-up to Hiroshima, there's something almost claustrophobic about this story.

Don't read this if you want drama, action and a fast plot as there's little of that here. Instead this is an unhurried unwinding of what is a tragedy but on a small scale. Overall this is a very decorous book and so the few moments of drama that do break through the surface have all the more impact. So a modest, almost unassuming book that is delivered with masterful control.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book of the summer, 7 Sept. 2013
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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'There are things we can't undo, but perhaps there is a kind of constructive remorse that could transform regrettable acts into something of service to life. That summer Flora and I were together every day and night for three weeks in June, all of July, and the first six weeks of August. I was ten going on eleven, and she was twenty-two. I thought I knew her intimately, I thought I knew everything there was to know about her, but she has since become a profound study to me, more intensely so in recent years. Styles have come and gone in storytelling, psychologising, theologising, but Fora keeps providing me with something as enigmatic as it is basic to life, as timeless as it is fresh.'

Godwin's opening paragraph sets up the premise of the book - a long summer in Carolina spent with an intimate companion - and also lets us know that Helen, the narrator, and professional storyteller is looking back on that summer of 1945 with regret and has done so often. We are intrigued as to what happened and concerned about the regrettable act that has caused the summer to be dwelt upon so often. The adult narrator's voice of foreboding continues in snatches throughout the novel which is mostly written from the point of view of the nearly eleven year old, Helen. Nonie, her beloved grandmother has recently died, her mother died when she was only three and her father is set to leave her for important war work at Oak Ridge for the summer. He asks Helen's emotional cousin to stay and look after her and Helen is both resentful and scornful: 'My grandmother Nonie, that mistress of layered language, had often remarked that Flora possessed `the gift of tears.' As far as I could tell, layers had been left out of Flora."

Helen's house is almost a character in the book. It was once a sanatorium for "Recoverers," people recuperating after TB or a nervous breakdown, or drying out from alcoholism. An outbreak of polio in the town means that Flora and Helen are isolated and that we are more familiar with the legends of Recoverers, who she has never known as her real life friends. They do have one regular visitor and he becomes the love interest in this thoughtful story.

Helen later remembers it later as having been "for the most part a boring, exasperating summer. The danger is that we could be bored by the recounting of it but I think Gail Godwin is a very underrated novelist and this, her 14th novel, is a triumph. Flora is written with the attention to language of a master - John Irving says 'as word-perfect and taut as an Alice Munro short story' and I agree with him. I think the review in the Guardian said that this novel has echoes of Atonement, and again I agree. Godwin's story is moving, gripping and beautifully written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing but so tedious, 28 July 2014
By 
Book Critic (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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It is 1945, and Helen, a spoiled, selfish, self-centred, snobbish, deeply unpleasant ten year old girl is forced to spend her summer at home, trapped by an outbreak of polio. Her father is away working on the atomic bomb so her cousin Flora arrives from Alabama to care for her. Flora is delightful, kind and thoughtful and Helen instantly despises her, dismissing her as an idiot country bumpkin. But then there are very few people Helen doesn't feel are beneath her: the only exceptions - aside from her snobbish and recently deceased grandmother - are her father and the injured soldier Finn, on whom Helen develops a crush. And that's pretty much it. There's precious little plot. There's no doubt that Gail Godwin can write well; the character studies here are wonderfully well done, but the almost complete absence of a story made this tedious reading for me. There is something so lifeless about the prose, so lacking in some thing, some spark of life that sets a good novel apart. I was terribly bored, it's taken ages for me to read. It simply didn't excite me or inspire me to pick it up; reading it became a chore. If I hadn't had to review it, I would have given up by chapter five. It does pick up a little in the last third, when events occur and things actually happen, but the acceleration is too feeble and too late to save this lacklustre tale, so lacking in vim and vigour that even the high points- few as they are - feel glossed over and consequently lost.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...what is anybody's memory but another narrative form?", 15 Aug. 2013
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
This is a haunting and beautifully written story set in North Carolina in the closing days of the Second World War. Helen is almost eleven. She has no memory of her mother who died when she was three and, up to the point where the book opens, she has been brought up by her adored grandmother, Nonie. Her father has departed on "important war work" for the duration of Helen's school summer vacation and she is left in the care of her mother's cousin Flora.

"My grandmother Nonie, that mistress of layered language, had often remarked that Flora possessed 'the gift of tears'. As far as I could tell, layers had been left out of Flora. All of her seemed to be on the same level, for anyone to see." Helen occasionally thinks of Flora as "simple-minded" but others in the story correct her saying she is "simple-hearted". It is true that Flora wears her heart on her sleeve.

Gail Godwin, a critically acclaimed American author, is new to me as she will be, I imagine, to many British readers. There's no overly clever, out-to-impress the reader tricksy stuff. The almost flawless Flora is a deceptively simple, highly accomplished piece of writing with wonderful characterisation throughout. The front cover design of the hard-back edition is inspired and, in any event, it's far too good to wait for the paperback.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readers, I failed to read more than 100 pages, 5 Jan. 2015
By 
Sally Zigmond (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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As a Vine reviewer, I once got "attacked" for an Amazon review because I was didn't enjoy a book enough to finish it and said so. I happen to believe in honesty and also that an inability to finish a book - as long as intelligent reasons are given - is an important element of book reading and reviewing. It happens very rarely to me because I carefully choose which books I choose to review and also read about a book a week. Reading is important to me.

So, when I saw this novel by an American female author with a wide readership and a long back-list I was keen to read this one. I do love discovering writers who are "new" to me. The subject matter and the fact that is a historical novel set in a location unfamiliar to me ticked all the boxes for me so I began to read it with relish.

I always tell myself that by the time I have read 100 pages and am not enjoying the reading experience, then I put it down but also work out why I has not engaged me. In the case of 'Flora' I found more than one.

The viewpoint was difficult to understand. I do realise that the events are being viewed in retrospect and in more than one layer in that an adult,looking back to her youth, will later be able to understand what she couldn't at the time. However, I die become muddled as to what she was believing at the time when the events happen or looking back with maturity. I also found it difficult to understand when a particular section or paragraph is set in the novel's timeline. Others may say that the confusion is mine because I am not clever enough to work out the subtleties of viewpoint or narration in this novel and this was why I was muddled. This may be so and I can only apologise.

I am not daft enough, though, to believe that a reader has to "like" a character to read a novel about them but I do have to feel that, as a reader, I get something in return for the reading experience. Coherent, intelligent writing is one important element for me, and, yes, this novel has it. Secondly, I like a strong sense of place and time so that I feel I am there: breathing the same air; smelling the same scents; sharing the mood and sensations of the characters and get a feel for the time in which it is set. Unfortunately, I didn't feel it.

So, I did try. But as I always have a pile of books I want to read, I am not prepared to struggle for too long before I give up. I think 100 pages of a novel is enough to 'get a feel for' narrative, characterisation, plot and atmosphere etc. And I had hoped that I had found a novelist with a long back-list to enjoy. No doubt someone will tell me what I am missing. All I can say is sorry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Summer Captured, 27 Aug. 2014
By 
Sandford "Sandy" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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I love the way the author conveys a strong sense of the passage of time and place in this novel. The vicariousness of life, not knowing what is around the corner, feels at its core. After finishing reading the book and processing the story, I felt humbled and more in touch with my own sense of mortality. One message within the novel is very much strive to live for today, grab the moment, and try not to dwell on the past.

Gail Godwin shows skill in how she reveals the complexities of the relationship between the two main characters; 11 year old Helen, and her aunt Flora, the latter seemingly well-meaning and simple hearted. The interactions between them are both delightful and intriguing. Although there is some consternation expressed from Helen towards Flora, (notably regarding her "gift of tears"), there is also a tinge of a dependent mutuality between this duo.

I feel that the author really understands, and is in touch with, the various layers of Helen's consciousness, a young girl burgeoning her way towards adolescence. Gail Godwin seems to have direct access to Helen's thoughts, ruminations and day dreams which come through in an unfiltered fashion in her convincing writing. This brings a vibrancy and vitality to the personality of Helen, where we become well aware of, and share with, the dilemmas she experiences. Helen tries to act and think as an adult, but the engaging naivety of her 11 years gives her away with its natural transparency.

Helen is certainly precocious, intelligent, with a delightful egocentricity, (qualities that her witty father appreciates with his acerbic sense of humour), and at times introspective and melancholic. Her relative sense of omnipotence that emerges from her self pre-occupations becomes an endearing quality. This could otherwise easily become an irritant in prose from a less accomplished writer. Gail Godwin captures beautifully the clashes of child and adult worlds, and the pathos of Helen's dilemmas. Well recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No easy-reading here, but a masterful piece of writing, 2 Feb. 2014
By 
Thomas Pots "T Pots" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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If you like your novels written in measured literary style, with plenty of introspection and depth, look no further than Flora. A few reviewers have pointed to the trail of remorse running through this story, but Godwin goes far beyond mere woe, with insightful prose, principal characters that go as deep as the soul, and a plot that is intelligent if not immediately attractive. Godwin doesn’t do action or high drama here, but she offers something equally rewarding and, I suppose, more meaningful.

The plot concerns Flora, guardian to a young girl, Helen. We receive the story through Helen’s retrospection some years later, looking back at how the pair lived together in the shadow of a polio epidemic. Helen, though only ten at the time, begins to behave like her dead grandmother, like a woman rather than a child. This precociousness throws Flora, who is a woman given to easy upset and tears. Their fractious and fragile relationship develops, as it must in isolated captivity.

The story is a thing of the many small things on which a life may turn, and of the huge repercussions that may result – hence much mention of remorse. It is a slow-moving tale, where little happens outwardly, but inwardly there’s a sea of turmoil and change, for Helen and Flora. It is certainly a thing of beauty above all, but though I like literary fiction most of all, I did find the going a little slow at times. Yet, its setting in an America losing its old ways and fumbling to find a new identity, and the sheer depth with which Godwin explores Flora and Helen, it is well worth sticking with.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever thought "What If" ?, 24 Oct. 2013
By 
elsie purdon "reads too much" (dorset uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
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This is a beautifully written novel that just flows along effortlessly.
Written in the voice of Helen who is ten going on eleven, about the summer she spent with Flora a twenty-two year old, her dead mother's cousin.
World War 11 is coming to it's end and Helen's father has to be away on important war work. He asks Flora to come and be with Helen as her grandmother has recently died and clearly a ten year old cannot be left alone. Although Helen seems to think herself as mature as a grown-up. Her mother died when she was very young and she has been brought up in a huge house that had been bought by her grandfather and used a place for "recoverers" of TB and alcoholism to stay when they were not quite ready for home but not sick either.

Helen is extremely mature mentally and emotionally for her age and that is the only detail I had trouble with. Did girls of that age really think so clearly then? I don't know, but she sees herself as better then many of the people she knows, yet she is very likeable as a character. Not sure I would think so in real life though!

Flora and Helen become quite isolated after an outbreak of polio in the neighbourhood, they must stay at home for Helen's safety. Though they still have a cleaning lady and the groceries have to be delivered, so not all contact is severed.
that's as far as I will go without giving anything away.
I loved this book for the writing, rich and imaginative, the characters of Flora and Helen came alive, and the story is slow but never boring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars That Tragic Summer, 5 Sept. 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Flora (Hardcover)
Gail Godwin's engaging novel:'Flora', set in the mountains of North Carolina during the summer of 1945, is the quiet, yet compelling story of Helen Anstruther, whom we first meet when she is ten years old and living in a rambling old house with her father, who is involved in secret war work. Helen's mother died when Helen was three years old and since that time she has been cared for by her beloved grandmother, who has very sadly recently passed away leaving Helen feeling rather lost and alone. In consequence, the old and gently decaying family home signifies a constancy and security in Helen's life.

Shortly after the story begins, Helen's father has to go to Tennesse for his work, so he arranges for his deceased wife's cousin, Flora, a naive and highly emotional young woman, who has recently qualified as a teacher, to come and take care of his daughter for the weeks of the summer holidays. Helen, a bright, imaginative and precocious child, who speaks in the quaint and rather old-fashioned manner of her grandmother, is not impressed with Flora; in fact, in some ways, Helen feels superior to her gauche relative - she tells us: "Beyond my resentment at the idea of her 'taking care' of me, rose an unsettling thought: what if there were ways I was going to have to take care of Flora?" However Flora is not simpleminded as Helen rather unkindly describes her - she is simple-hearted. One of the characters in the story later explains the difference to Helen, telling her that simple-hearted means: "When there's no deceit or malice in your heart...that's why Flora is so rare, it's just her heart she offers."

When Helen learns that Flora cannot drive, she is dismayed at the thought of not being able to get about and this is further compounded, when Helen's father learns of an outbreak of polio in the area, and he insists that the two of them stay at home in case Helen should contract the the crippling and potentially fatal disease. This means that Helen and Flora become practically housebound, relying on visits from Mrs Jones, the weekly help, and Finn, a young recovering soldier, who delivers their groceries. As Finn becomes a regular visitor to the house, both Helen and Flora become attracted to him, and Helen finds herself vying with Flora for Finn's attention - but then something happens which sets in motion a catastrophe that will haunt Helen throughout the rest of her life...

'Flora' is the story of Helen's recollection of the tragic, claustrophobic summer she spent with her cousin, of events which continue to haunt her, of remorse, and of things that cannot be undone. This is a deftly controlled, uncomplicated and unpretentious story, so if you enjoy fast-paced, action-packed drama, then this is most probably not for you; however, if you prefer novels where the author gradually reveals the layers of her characters and plot, and you want a satisfying story for downtime reading, then Gail Godwin's 'Flora' should be an enjoyable (if poignant) reading experience for you.

4 Stars.
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Flora
Flora by Gail Godwin
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