In 1973, twenty-year-old Moll Gladney takes a morning bus from her rural home in Ireland and disappears. Bewildered and distraught, Paddy and Kit must confront an unbearable prospect: that they will never see their daughter again. Five years later, Moll returns from London. What--and who--she brings with her will change the course of her family's life forever.
Ryan specialises in excavating rural and small-town Ireland, uncovering his characters' particularities - their alienation and urge to belong, their capacity for self-deception and love - in piercing, lyrical prose ... Ryan is excellent at dealing with the passage of time; key scenes unfold slowly, years are covered in a few sentences. The effect of this is subtle but consistent, a reminder that individual lives are rich and transient. Like John McGahern's That They May Face the Rising Sun, the novel captures the steadiness and flux of life in rural Ireland - the stories in between the silences, the coexistence of beauty and violence, kindness and cruelty ... Moll remains elusive - less a fully embodied woman than a catalyst for the transformation of those around her. Ryan is particularly discerning when he is inside the heads of Paddy and Kit, who allow him to expose the class and power systems at play in the village ... While Alexander's perspective on his adopted country - wry, bemused, ultimately fond - is part of Strange Flowers' appeal, Josh's whiteness - not impossible but highly improbable - is a stumbling block. When he and Kit first see Josh, Paddy refers to 'the perfect, unblemished whiteness of this strange flower'. But Ryan doesn't really use Josh's whiteness to elaborate on the novel's themes; instead it's a distraction, foregrounded without being fully worked in ... Ryan's prose is as beautiful and haunting as ever ... In rethinking the parable of the prodigal son, in looking at what happens when a prodigal returns, Ryan creates an expansive and thought-provoking story that is timeless and fresh. It may begin in the 1970s, but Strange Flowers holds a mirror up to racism in Ireland today.
... slim, quietly powerful ... The working out of the sadness and secrets of this little family is beautifully done, poignant rather than depressing, and ending on a sweet note. As in his past work, Ryan's prose is a miracle of fluidity, of country talk flowing in and out of people's thoughts, capturing the rural Irish soul in its whole essence as brilliantly as any writer ever has.
Ryan writes conspicuously beautiful prose, and he is at his best when he blends the music of rural speech with fiddle-reels of natural description ... The storytelling need not be sentimentalized—Mr. Ryan’s books are usually quite dark—but it is inherently romantic, entrancingly so ... But it is to Mr. Ryan’s credit that he has continually sought to expand his reach ... brings out Mr. Ryan’s most sensuous and emotive writing. Scattered allusions to biblical tales reinforce the feeling that though its specifics are updated, the story in Strange Flowers is as old as civilization. In the final section, Joshua, troubled and misunderstood like his mother, repeats her rejection and flees to London. But the cords of family and place are stronger than distance for Mr. Ryan, and though this is his most expansive novel yet, it is still, at heart, about homecoming.