After reading From a Low and Quiet Sea last year and giving it 2 stars, I decided to give Donal Ryan another chance with Strange Flowers. I was wrong.
Let me cut straight to the chase here: the writing in Strange Flowers was unbearable, especially in the first half. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with such a glaring, painfully distracting problem with its writing. I’ll let the words speak for themselves. The following is ONE SINGULAR SENTENCE from Strange Flowers:
“And Alexander Elmwood stooped beneath the low lintel and shuffled long-legged and rumpled down the short hallway, and they listened to him retching and vomiting, and Kit told Moll to take him down a fresh towel, and she did, and she was gone a long while, and Kit and Paddy strained to listen to the low mutters of their conversation but they could pick up none of it, and Moll came back up the hall on her own, and she said she’d put him into her bed and she would sleep in with her mother that night and Daddy would have to sleep with Alexander, and never in his wildest imaginings did Paddy Gladney ever think that his first night sleeping without his wife alongside him since the day his daughter was born would be spent inside in a bed with a gigantic drunken black man.”
I want you to imagine reading that, but for 100+ pages. Reader, I almost lost my mind. I have never in my life been so alert to the word “and” than when I was reading the first half of this book. I have no idea if this was intentional or not—if it was intentional, why? and if it wasn’t, how did no one notice it????—but either way it drove me up the wall. I could not absorb anything I was reading because it felt like a little ping went off in my brain every time I came across yet another “and.”
Aside from the writing—which is frankly a huge issue to be putting aside, considering it’s 99% of the reason why this novel irritated me so much—I found myself not at all engaged by this story. It started out intriguing enough: I liked the focus on a small family in a quiet, rural setting, the exploration of how a family comes together over multiple generations. But the same issue that I had with From a Low and Quiet Sea cropped up soon enough. I much prefer to see characters’ emotions and thoughts play out in real time, as opposed to being told them in retrospect. Donal Ryan’s writing does the latter almost to the exclusion of the former—that is, it’s the kind of writing that tells you what happened instead of letting you watch it happen on the page.
I wish I had something more substantial or cohesive to say about Strange Flowers, but I will honestly never get over the insane amount of “and”s that I had to read in this novel. 🤷
(Thanks to Random House UK/Transworld Publishers for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!)