I was intrigued by this novel after reading many reviews around the blogs last year. I was attracted by the unusual story, and also by the cover on the American version (although our English cover is also quite attractive). I finished it only a few hours ago.
Clara is a reserved young woman who seeks refuge from a troubled past in her work as a mortuary attendant, safely hidden from the living. Her only aims in life are to be as invisible as possible and to honour those whose bodies come her way. Her passion is for the flowers that she lovingly tends in her ornamental greenhouse, and their traditional meanings, which she uses with appropriate care when preparing the dead and including a personal bouquet. The more unsavoury parts of her job are preferable to any interaction with the people she comes into contact with. There is affection, but at a distance, with Linus, the caring owner of the Funeral Home and his wife Alma, who have come to call Clara their own. There is also Mike, the police officer from the various crime scenes they have attended together, including that of his wife 3 years earlier. Clara has enough bolt holes when the closeness of others becomes too much within her carefully planned life. That is until a young girl, a child, is discovered playing in the funeral home, reopening a distressing case of a murdered girl and forcing Clara to revisit the parts of her past she has fought to forget.
This book is very easy to read and the pages turn over very quickly. The subject matter is interesting and mysterious, without descending into unnecessary distaste. Clara is a fascinating character who drives the story and I found myself caring for her a great deal. The accounts of her painful dealings with other people, her rejection of any contact, her self-loathing and tangible pain and her need to disappear and not be noticed were so well written. I loved all of the references to flowers and their meanings, and the relief she feels when safe in her greenhouse.
The plot took a number of interesting twists and turns, accelerating the intrigue towards the end. There is more than a hint of the supernatural, making you question her perception of events throughout, and I found the final sequence very moving.
There are accounts of recovering dead bodies and preparing them afterwards, and you should be aware of this. These passages are sensitively dealt with but there are details some readers may find too much for them. I personally found these parts of the book essential in discovering Clara's character, which for me was the most satisfying part of this novel. I have never quite come across anyone like her and I enjoyed reading about her very much. The other characters are well constructed too, and develop throughout the book.
As the book progressed and Clara starts to let her guard down, with others as well as with you, this proved to be a really good read and I highly recommend it to readers who love mystery and crime, as well as those, like me, who love a strong main character and an unusual story. I will be keeping an eye out for more by this author. A brilliant first novel.
Amy Mackinnon has her own website should you want to read more about her. Just click the link.
My version of this book contained its own book group discussion questions too!