ava lavender


'Emilienne wasn't entirely correct in asserting that Henry solely understood one language over another; it was that he favored certain words from each. For example, Henry preferred when someone offered to help him with his moufles, not his mittens; made him petit pois, not peas, for dinner; and served pamplemousse rather than grapefruit for lunch. He liked when Emilienne used the word impeccable instead of clean and was partial to a cup and spoon over a fork, knife, or plate. He liked driftwood, trifle, and cavernous and later would hate the word pubic, and prefer mamelon to nipple.
Henry went on to communicate in other unique ways. Good was caramel, and bad was fumigate. He called Gabe cedar, which we attributed to the way Gabe's hands smelled after a day in his woodshop. I was pinna, the Latin word for feather. Our mother, étoile de mer, which was French for starfish. No one could explain that one.'


The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
(Page 141-142)



The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is one of those stories i naturally gravitate towards.
Magical Realism? Sentient houses? Haunted characters? Inexplicable but delicate supernatural beings?
Check, check, check and check.
This is the stuff literary dreams are made of.
And Leslye Walton did it beautifully.
The only problem is... Angela Carter and Isabel Allende did and do it better.
I couldn't help but read Ava Lavender and compare it to Nights at the Circus, which actually features an unexplainably winged woman and her travails through the everyday, and to The House of Spirits' formidable and complex family of females and their myriad ethereal gifts.
The seemingly effortless skill with which Carter and Allende weave their otherworldly, yet worldly characters in situations of such bizarre mundanity is not something many writers can even dream of competing with.
And this isn't to say Leslye Walton doesn't live up to these seasoned writers.
She wholeheartedly does but her story is missing something.
That elusive something that a select few writers simply have and others will always strive for.
And i'm eager for Walton to continue doing so because like another writer and his debut novel filled with living, breathing architecture and its inhabitants of tortured, mythical souls, i want to see more.

Even though the story was a little lacking, Walton's characters were robust and full of depth.
One character in particular truly stole my heart.
The freely mute twin of the eponymous heroine, Henry.
The role he plays is that of 'divine messenger'.
Henry knows the ending to the story before anyone else does and it's the only reason he dares to speak at all and when he does it's not always in his native tongue.
Something about this tugged at my insides.
When i read the above quote it was one of those occasions where a series of words or whole passages feels so intrinsically human that i can't bear to continue reading or for that matter even look at the page in front of me.
Alan Bennett probably said it best:

'The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.'


And so to most, the quote from Ava Lavender will be meaningless and they'll simply consume the words and move on.
But for some, like me, it'll stop them dead.
Maybe it's because i'm a painful introvert and the act of holding a conversation with someone sucks the very life out of me. I'd rather be silent and thoughtful than a constant deluge of words.
Or that the lineage of the Lavender family is very similar to my own.
My grandmother's Belgian and my life has been feathered with foreign terms that never cease to intrigue and comfort me.
There's something occult about my grandmother's accent and it's always made me feel somewhat special to have foreign blood in my veins.
Maybe that's why Henry affected me more than the other characters.
Because he's a little piece of me i didn't even know was out there.