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Tuesday August 26, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday August 29, 2014 MYT 10:20:42 AM
By TAN SHIOW CHIN
Three generations of unusual women experience love and tragedy in the early decades of the 20th century.
WHEN you are born with large wings that are inseparable from your body, it is not surprising that those of a religious bent might see you as an angel.
This is what happens when Ava Lavender is born.
Coming into the world wrapped in a pair of speckled wings, Ava soon attracts the devout, who gather below her mother’s labour room, carrying candles and murmuring prayers.
Her mother, Viviane, so fears for Ava’s safety – and indeed, for that of her autistic (non-winged) twin brother, Henry’s – that she confines them to the house that they share with Vivianne’s mother, Emilienne Roux Lavender.
Now, this might sound like the start of a fantasy book (or one about a repressed, abused child), but nothing could be further from the truth.
Rather, despite the title, it is the tale of three generations of unusual Roux women, beginning in the early years of the 20th century.
The story begins in the small French town of Trouville-sur-Mer, where we meet the Roux family: handsome, larger than life father Beauregard; quiet, nondescript mother known only as Maman (French for “mother”); and children Emilienne, Rene, Margaux and Pierette – all born on the first of March.
Their common birthday is the first indication the reader has that this family might not be quite as normal as everybody else.
And, indeed, as the story proceeds, readers will soon realise how truly unusual the Roux family – in particular, the women – are.
Tired of small village life, Beauregard is soon seduced by the American dream and decides to emigrate with his family to “Manhatine” (Manhattan) in 1912.
There, things don’t turn out as rosy as Beauregard dreamt they would.
In fact, things end rather badly for most of the Roux family, resulting in Emilienne deciding to marry the limping Connor Lavender, on the condition that he takes her far away from Manhattan.
They eventually settle in Seattle, in a house with a strange, sorrowful legend of its own.
There, Emilienne garners a reputation as a witch and gives birth to Vivianne.
Connor dies soon afterward, and Emilienne is forced to continue his bakery business against the social odds.
The story soon shifts its focus to the young Vivianne; in particular, the relationship she develops with the boy next door, Jack Griffiths.
Events soon lead up to Ava and Henry’s birth, whereupon Ava takes over as the central character. The entire story, though, is told in her voice.
First-time author Leslye Walton weaves an intriguing, and rather tragic, story about the three generations of Roux women.
Emilienne, Vivianne and Ava are all interesting characters in their own right, with distinct stories of their own.
I like the way Walton insinuated the more fantastical elements into an otherwise 20th-century slice-of-life novel, dropping them in matter-of-factly, without explanation.
We never know why the Roux women are so unusual, but that’s all right because that’s not the point of the story.
The climax of the book was less climatic than it should have been, considering the build-up to it, but it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story, as Walton tied up all the threads quite satisfactorily. No sequels here!
If you fancy a well-written, interesting mix of whimsy, fantasy and tragedy, set in the more innocent decades of the 20th century, then do check out The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender.
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Books, The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton, Walker Books, fiction, TAN SHIOW CHIN
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