The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender Review

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender: My Review

Rating: 5/5 stars

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.  

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is, as its title suggests, a strange and beautiful book. It's also a book that came along, stole my heart and smashed it to smithereens - in other words, it has become one of my favourites of all time. 

This book is magical realism at its very finest, at the height of its potential. Walton writes in a way that is inexplicably bittersweet with the ability to make you smile and break your heart in a single sentence. There is this melancholy, almost sinister but beautiful atmosphere that permeates every page and left me with goosebumps on multiple occasions because the imagery is just so vivid. After reading this book, I have totally committed myself to reading everything else Leslye Walton writes in order to experience her delicate prose all over again. 

The book tells the generational story of the Roux family which Ava Lavender is born into - with wings. There's no explanation for this and nobody really questions it, which is sort of a running theme throughout the story - almost every part of what you read is completely fantastical and requires you as a readers to open your mind and accept what you cannot understand. Walton portrays a family of strong and diverse women, each with intense backgrounds, who have only known loss and heartbreak to go hand in hand with love and have allowed their misfortune to define their lives by regarding it as fate, and a burden to be passed down like a family heirloom. 

It is not until Ava is actually born that she becomes the supposed protagonist. Before then, we learn in rich detail about her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother's lives in order to gain some context as to why Ava is the person she is. We learn that Emilienne, Ava's grandmother, opened her heart up three times to love before her 19th birthday, only to have it utterly broken three times. Then we follow Viviane, Ava's mother, and her relationship with love throughout her childhood and path into adulthood. I think Viviane was my favourite character of all; she was just so wonderfully complex and crafted so beautifully with this blinding capacity for love in the face of everything. I loved seeing her character evolve as she became a mother to twins, Henry and Ava Lavender, and in turn learns more about herself and the meaning of love. With these women forming the backbone of the novel, we finally follow Ava as she grows up as a young girl who wants to be seen for more than just her wings, but ultimately wants to love and be loved. 

The generational format of the book wasn't something I'd read before but I became completely and utterly swept away by the lives of every character and just adored them all for their weirdness. There is an ethereal majesty and subtle kind of symmetry within each of their stories, making it seem so articulately planned and executed phenomenally. I really felt like I was living their pain and suffering their heartbreak alongside them from start to finish and the whole thing was so desperately sad but I LOVED IT. There is a very large cast of characters throughout the story which could easily have become hard to keep track of, but it didn't at all - even the most minor of characters were well-established and absolutely none of them were wasted.

I've got to say, this book caught me off guard quite a few times with its content (which isn't a negative thing, just to clarify). From the very first page, there is this underlying building of tension and I was kind of filled with the ominous feeling that at some point something terrible is going to happen and I'm not going to be prepared for it, and I was totally right - there is a violent rape scene near the end which I'm pretty sure held my breath hostage the whole time and, in fact, through the entire aftermath which was a good few chapters. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I was not expecting this book to be quite the rich intoxicating whirlwind of emotions that it was. Featuring violence and suicide, murder and intercourse both consensual and not, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender drips with darkness and pain, but somehow this darkness and pain is elevated by the lyrical, whimsical writing to a story that feels like a very mature, poignant and hopeful fairytale (but it's still devastating). 

Overall, I could tell from the first chapter that this was going to be a 5 star read and my instinct was absolutely correct because I adored this book so much. With discussions of love, desire, obsession and wasted youth, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was ultimately a beautiful tale of what happens to those who are forever ruled by their hearts and have to live with the consequences of the ill-advised choices that our hearts make.

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