Above the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets on Midsummer’s Eve. To celebrate the longest day of the year, Christer’s family holds an annual celebration with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone’s kids. It should be a time of enjoying one another’s company…but company is one thing that never fails to send Christer into a panic. It’s not that he is entirely lacking in social skills, but anxiety and nervousness make hims stress sweat. And with the sweat comes a horrific stink that no amount of deodorant can quell. The adults in his family are mostly understanding, but how can Christer expect a stranger to overlook this overpowering stench? He’s divorced, pushing forty, and an olfactory abomination—none of which bodes well for Christer, a man who’s deepest desire it just to find love one more time. Which is why, when his family pushes him towards a special guest at their Midsummer’s Eve part, Christer allows himself a sliver of hope.
Writer, blogger, and botanist Henrik never imagined he’d find himself enjoying the midnight sun so far north of Stockholm. Yet he finds himself in Uppsala for the holiday, having accepted a pity invite. Just as he’s lamenting how the cold weather has limited the number of flowering species with which to celebrate the holiday, he encounters Christer. Henrik is pleasantly surprised Christer knows about Henrik’s two favorite botanists, Linnaeus and Artedi. The two strike up a friendly repertoire and suddenly, being the “pity invite” doesn’t feel so pitiful to Henrik. On a whim, he asks Christer to go on a walk to escape the crowd and indulge their botany bent.
Together, Christer and Henrik comb the sprawling grounds slowly returning to the wild. While strolling through long abandoned houses and a lake still mostly frozen, Henrik reveals that he wants to indulge in a Swedish tradition: looking for seven different flowers to put under his pillows to make him dream of his one true love. Along the walk, Christer is amazed he finds himself able to speak relatively freely with Henrik…just not entirely freely. Christer been a fan of Henrik’s work and followed the man’s blog religiously. Even if he’s managed to mask the stars in his eyes, Christer knows it will only be a black mark against him when Henrik inevitably finds out that Christer had the advantage of knowing Henrik—or at least the man Henrik presents on-line. Not wishing to start anything based on a lie, Christer decides to come clean when it seems like Henrik just might return even a smidgen of Christer’s attraction.
Henrik isn’t as turned off by Christer’s status as “fan” as much as he is put off by Christer’s decided desire for a monogamous relationship—one that would possibly have wedding bells and a mortgage. Henrik is only capable of offering one single night of passion. With such a stark difference in expectations, their quick friendship seems to crumble. When Christer has second thoughts, he races after Henrik…but there are no guarantees Henrik will give him a second chance, even if only for the night.
Last year, I reviewed All You Can Eat by Ingela Bohm and was taken with her portrayal of eating disorders. In The Seventh Flower, she once again taps into a kind of story telling that is all too rare. The main characters have clear cut elements about them that are purely physical(ly grievous) attributes. With the narration being told in first person perspective from Christer’s side, the reader quickly learns about his offensive body odor. Henrik’s problem is only revealed towards the very end of the book and through Christer at that. Even so, I certainly had that “ah-hah!” moment where I reflected on all of Henrik’s actions (helped a bit by Christer reminding us of said actions) and saw them in a new light. I definitely enjoyed the way each character’s ‘flaw’ drives their behavior while at the same time, the story isn’t just about Christer and Henrik accepting themselves for who they are, but about accepting each other rather than trying to impress a potential love interest with falsehood (in Christer’s case, pretending he doesn’t smell).
Bohm used the setting as part of the plot as well, which was wonderful. Even though I don’t know a thing about Swedish culture, the seven flowers tradition feels like a natural part of the story. The search for seven different flowers also nicely focuses our two main characters attention on each other as they leave the party behind to search for blooms. While they’re on their trek, we are treated to an in-depth look at Christer and the two are subtly flirting back and forth the whole time. Initially, Christer is confused that his secret on-line crush is even making the attempt, half convinced the man is straight. And Henrik’s revelation that he’s just looking for a one night stand introduces some bittersweet feelings of missed chances. Of course, reading all this from Christer’s perspective was great for me because he’s hyper aware of what he believes are his shortcomings. I also have to commend Bohm on such a sensitive treatment of her MCs.
Of course, the resolution was right up my alley. As the ending unfolds, I found the characters acting and reacting in delightfully genuine ways. Yes, there is a happy ending, but it was largely lacking schmaltzy melodrama while still definitely letting the reader feel good about Christer and Henrik and their prospects.
Overall, this was a great story. If you’re looking for something off-beat that features satisfyingly human characters (warts and all) in a slice-of-Swedish-life story, you’d certainly enjoy The Seventh Flower.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.