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September 2007
 
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Flower Phantoms, by Ronald Fraser (1926)

RONALD Fraser (1888-1974) was a British civil servant, diplomat and writer. In 1917, following service in the First World War, Fraser joined the Foreign Trade Department of the Foreign Office. He was promoted rapidly, and during his long career served in places as various as Buenos Aires and Cairo. In 1949 he was knighted for his service.

Alongside his career in business, Fraser also wrote more than thirty books, published between 1924 and the year of his death. Twenty-seven are novels, and many of these are fantasies with mystical themes, showing the reality hidden behind our prosaic everyday world.

Flower Phantoms was Fraser's third novel, and it remains one of his most memorable. The minimal plot centers around Judy, a botanical student who works at Kew Gardens. She lives nearby with her businessman brother Hubert, and the story contrasts her faltering courtship by Roland, a professor of literary history, with her imaginative life among the plants and flowers, and her visions of and strange experiences with the embodied imaginations of the flowers in their native plant-world. The Water Lily tells her the cold truth of its world, while her encounter with the poetic Orchid seethes with a lyrical sensuality. Eventually Judy's inner and outer worlds collide, and from them art—in the form of her own imaginative paintings—is born.

Flower Phantoms is a seductive visit into the rich and glowing dreamworld of plant life, symbolically used as background to a young girl's spiritual awakening.

—Douglas A. Anderson

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