The Setting of Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
A graveyard of secrets in France
The main setting in this novel is Bourgogne (Burgundy) as that is where the main characters Violette Toussaint lives. The other main character Juliet, hails from Marseille. The real setting is that of the graveyard where Violette lives and works. This is a universal setting with human interest stories aplenty. This is the one setting that we can all understand and visit, wherever we live in the world.
In 1997, Violette and Philippe Toussaint arrived in Bourgogne to become the cemetery keepers at Brancion-en-Chalon Cemetery. There is a small village named Brancion actually in Burgundy and it’s just as you imagine the one in the novel to be:
Violette’s cemetery is wonderfully described. “I planted some pine trees…[it’s]…all about caring for the dead who lie within it. It’s about respecting them. And if they weren’t respected in life, at least they are in death. [But] I’m sure plenty of bastards lie here…And anyhow, who hasn’t been a bastard at least once in their life?”
This is a novel set in a place of death, but Violette makes it a place of life, hope and memory. She takes care to keep the place tidy and respectful. She wants this to be the final resting place that is as comforting to its inhabitants as it can me. This is very important to her and so she spends time tending to the plants and graves. She makes food for those who pass by and visit their relatives. Violette also has a keen sense of justice. She expects visitors to act respectfully in this solemn place. So, when a group of teenagers come at night to drink beer, she dresses up a a ghost to scare them senseless. Oh how I laughed! Violette’s door is always open for the waifs and strays who come by here:
It was the room for “desperate cases, tears, confidences, anger, size, despair, and the laughter of the gravediggers”.
This is a poignant novel and the epitaphs at the start of each chapter remind us, no matter where we are, that death and memories are universal and has no borders:
“Along this river where you loved to dream, the silver fish slipped by so lightly keep our memories which can never die.
Violette also likes the people she works with: the gravediggers/caretakers – Nono; Gaston; and Elvis; the undertakers – Pierre, Paul and Jacques Lucchini; and the priest – Father Cedric Duras. Quite a mix of characters who all come together in one very solemn place but they are like a family to Violette.
Edinburgh or Brancion?
This novel looks at what a graveyard means and represents. This one is well planned out with various ‘streets’ which are named in order to find your grave easily It’s like a mini town in many ways for those who now live here. Visitors come to their new home to share stories and sadness. Violette hears all kinds of things here – stories of affairs and confidences of all natures.
One visitor calls her existence and life into question and Violette learns to take a look at her own life. Past and present stories are told in alternate chapters giving a feel of before and after – as in life and death itself. It’s a novel where setting really lends itself to the story it is telling and the emotions it holds between the pages.
This is a story where the graveyard, any graveyard is the setting. The location of Bourgogne is secondary. This is a novel about life and loss, memory and regret, love and sadness.
A tribute to resting places of loved ones. Whatever your beliefs, religious or otherwise, whether you visit a grave or not, this is a moving and raw visit to a place where ghosts and the living life side by side.
Great news! – Palomar, the leading Italian production company has optioned the adaptation rights to the book and will be making an internationally-driven TV series based on it.
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Fresh Water for Flowers