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Flora: A Novel (2013)

by Gail Godwin

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3762658,047 (3.72)18
Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II. Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.… (more)

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Flora stays with Helen for the summer while Helen's father goes to Oak Ridge to work on a war project during the final months of World War II. Helen's mother died when she was young and she recently lost her Grandmother who helped to raise her. Flora is an emotional twenty-two-year-old and Helen is an independent and precocious ten-year-old. Flora is looking forward to being a first year teacher in an Alabama school in the fall. They are restricted to staying at the house because there are several cases of polio in the area and Helen's father fears for their health. A young man named Finn enters their lives and eventually heightened emotions trigger an event that will change all of their lives forever.

Helen was trying to take the place of the adult, a role that should have belonged to Flora. And I couldn't decide if Flora was a really weak character or if she was just emotional. In light of all of Helen's losses, I guess Helen was trying to grow up too soon. I also had difficulty with the direction of the novel other than to think that Helen's need to be grown up would cause someone heartbreak at some point in the story. ( )
  Rdglady | Nov 20, 2018 |
Beautifully written. ( )
  kimkimkim | Aug 21, 2017 |
Hmm. Not a wow.

You know, when I visit my parents - who are the same age as Ms Godwin - they spend a lot of time talking about the past. It's not boring but it's not always interesting either. Godwin's last few books have been like this. I get it but I miss the sharpness and the candor of her earlier books. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
The story of Helen (age 10) and summer guardian, Flora (age 22) during the final months of WW2.

The story takes place in a rambling, decaying house that was once a sanatorium for folks she calls the Recoverers."
The backdrop is the North Carolina hills.
The plot revolves around the intertwining lives of "motherless, precocious" Helen and guileless, simple-hearted Flora.

I have to admit that my interest intensified as the narrative was winding to a close.

3.5 ★ ( )
  pennsylady | Feb 2, 2016 |
Loved this book! ( )
  jules72653 | Dec 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
The novel owes a clear debt to The Turn of the Screw – the lonely house, the isolated governess with her charges, the name Flora – but there's little of the supernatural here. Godwin is much more interested in the gulf between children and adults; the child unable to foresee the consequences of her actions; and the lasting, formative effect of one single terrible error of naive judgement. If it reminds me of any other novel it's actually Atonement, but, dare I say it, Flora is a sharper, clearer portrait of a life lived remorsefully.
Gail Godwin’s 14th novel, “Flora,” offers a veritable taxonomy of orphans: from the conventional, both-parents-died variety to the quasi-orphan (one parent still nominally in the picture) to the elective orphan (a runaway) to the reverse-orphan (a parent unmoored by the loss of a child). In fact, as the story unfolds, we realize it’s populated almost exclusively by orphans of different stripes. It’s a mark of Godwin’s light, sure touch that this doesn’t feel contrived. On the contrary, it begins to feel natural, inevitable that beneath the surface of any individual we’ll find a lonesome soul, cut adrift.
The success of this trim novel rests entirely on Godwin’s ability to maintain the various chords of Helen’s voice, which are by degrees witty, superior, naive and rueful. Raised on books and her grandmother’s advice, the bright little girl has developed a comically antique manner of speaking — and the snobbery to go with it. It annoys her that Flora is so “indomitably cheerful.” She’s constantly correcting her guardian’s diction (“It’s a study, not an office.”). She’s aware of falling into her “smartypants mode” but usually can’t help herself. It troubles her that her cousin “shows no discrimination about people.” Fed up one afternoon with Flora’s floundering efforts to entertain her, Helen finally suggests, “Why don’t we each go to our own room and replenish ourselves?” Do 10-year-olds talk like that? Well, Helen does — that’s the point: She’s a flawless blend of precocious sophistication and youthful cluelessness. And your faith in the possibility of “her strange childhood” is the measure of this novel’s unsettling effectiveness.
"Godwin confronts the racism and snobbery of the period and deftly evokes the texture of domestic life shaped by food rationing, serialized radio dramas, news reports, or hearsay about the war and phone conversations connected by live — and often eavesdropping — operators."
Godwin’s novel shifts from lively dialogue to young Helen’s complex internal monologue to deft dramatization of that eventful/uneventful summer, all mediated by the adult Helen’s measured, melancholy reflections. “I now say alongside Thomas à Kempis: ‘I would far rather feel remorse than know how to define it.’ ”
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In memory of John Hawkins, agent and friend
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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.
“Flora’s simpleminded, you must have realized that by now.”

“I think you are confusing simpleminded with simple-hearted. . . . When there’s no deceit or malice in your heart . . . That’s why Flora is so rare, it’s just her heart she offers, with none of the sludge to wade through.”
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Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II. Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.

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Average: (3.72)
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