First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday – ‘Flora’ by Gail Goodwin


Publicists must love my kind because I get totally sucked in by another author’s testimonial on the front of a book. There’s a lot to be said for a testimonial, particularly when the author giving the testimonial is John Irving. If you haven’t picked up on it, Irving is without question my favourite contemporary author. So when I saw what he had to say about Flora by Gail Goodwin, I wasted no time downloading a sample (last week I would have simply bought it but my book-buying-ban is in place… *admiring my own strength*) –

“I’ve long thought of Gail Godwin as a present-day George Eliot — our keenest observer of lifelong, tragically unwitting decisions.

Helen’s story, which she tells us when she is an older woman, is focused on the summer when she was a precocious ten-year-old. Her mother is dead, and the “haunted little girl” has more recently lost her grandmother. Flora (the first cousin of Helen’s late mother) is looking after Helen for the summer. Helen seems much smarter and more sophisticated than her unwanted, twenty-two-year-old companion from Alabama; Helen believes that Flora is the one who needs looking after.

“Remorse is wired straight to the heart,” the older Helen tells us. Gail Godwin’s Flora is similarly wired — straight to the heart. The events of Helen’s haunted and most formative summer are perfectly plotted to unhinge her; what happens to Helen and Flora will make Helen the woman (and the writer) she becomes. (Helen tells us that a collection of her stories is “about failed loves.”)

Flora is a novel as word-perfect and taut as an Alice Munro short story; like Munro, Godwin has flawlessly depicted the kind of fatalistic situation we can encounter in our youth — one that utterly robs us of our childhood and steers the course for our adult lives.

This is a luminously written, heartbreaking book.” – John Irving

I had to have more and figured it was a perfect pick for First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. So, this is how Flora begins –

“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.

That summer, Flora and I were together every day and night for three weeks in June, all of July, and the first six days of August. I was ten, going on eleven, and she was twenty-two. I thought I knew her intimately, I thought I knew everything there was to know about her, but she has since become a profound study for me, more intensely so in recent years. Styles have come and gone in storytelling, psychologizing, theologizing, but Flora keeps providing me with something as enigmatic as it is basic to life, as timeless as it is fresh.”

I ordinarily ask ‘Buy it or bin it?’ but in this case, what with Irving’s stamp of approval plus a curve ball in the opening paragraphs (if I hadn’t read the blurb, I would have thought Goodwin was introducing a romantic relationship so the age difference stood out), it will be bought… Just not until September *admiring my own strength again*.

13 responses

  1. Interesting. I rarely pay attention to the blurbs — even when written by famous or favorite authors. But I am a big Gail Goodwin fan and have this one on my stack to read.

    • Funny because I always think that the authors used to do testimonials must be carefully chosen… and therefore I pay attention to who they have picked and what they have said! That said, there have been times when I’ve read a book and then looked at a testimonial and thought “Did we read the same book?!”

  2. I say buy it. Sometimes I don’t really notice the testimonials… but the cover of the book and the opening paragraph is enough for me to spend my time reading it.

    Thanks for hopping by my Teaser Tuesday post this week.

  3. I’ve had my eye on this one for awhile. The intro does sound good! I admire & applaud your book buying restraint.

    I haven’t declared an official book buying ban, but I am trying to avoid buying new books at the moment.

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