Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.
In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.
That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.
First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human. – Synopsis from Goodreads
“I found it ironic that I should be blessed with wings and yet feel so constrained, so trapped. It was because of my condition, I believe, that I noticed life’s ironies a bit more often than the average person. I collected them: how love arrived when you least expected it, how someone who said he didn’t want to hurt you eventually would.”
I took a long time to read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender because I didn’t want to reach a point where I was finished with this story. I wanted to linger with it and savour each page, drawing out the experience. I wanted to taste every word, dark and luscious, and ingest it slowly, piece by piece.
Leslye Walton’s intricate weave of reality and fantasy, an alloyed world forged from the magical and the mundane, is constructed around three generations of women. The story is related by Ava Lavender, girl born with wings, but it’s a history shared and connected through family. It is a collection of their loves and sorrows, entwined and inseparable, chronicled by Ava and culminating in her embrace of all that she is. It’s a story of love denied, love unrequited, love lost, love yearned for, love freely given, love unconditional. It’s a story of family and home and shadowy places carved in hearts by pain and regret.
Walton’s use of language reminds me a little of Margo Lanagan’s: rich and distinctive, with an undercurrent of darkness that occasionally leaches through. It’s prose to be immersed in, elegant and languid. There is some distance in the voice, as this is the adult Ava recounting her childhood and the lives of her mother and grandmother, but the writing is steeped in vivid and immediate imagery and threads of foreshadowing that pull the narrative forward. The plot itself is spare, and almost meanders until the final third where urgency begins to gather in Ava’s story, but the story doesn’t feel sluggish. Rather, underpinning the gradual unfurling of Emilienne, Viviane and Ava’s interlocking stories is a sense that something lies in wait, that there will be a pivotal moment for these women, one that will mark them indelibly.
The novel explores isolation – both physical and emotional – and how we may become confined within walls of our own making, good intentions or otherwise. How love sometimes blinds us, at other times opens our eyes. There is violence and pain, longing and desire of many forms in this story – the beautiful and grotesque, the fragile and powerful . Walton writes about the various facets of human love and how it shapes lives and alters hearts; protects us and also makes us vulnerable. It is a bittersweet triumph of being human, of living and loving and loss.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is an exquisite blend of impossibility and certainty; magical realism that is entirely convincing. Part saga, part memoir, part mythology – it is a story written in blood and feathers of what it is to love.