Geraniums by Marlene Hauser

My enormous thanks to Marlene Hauser for sending me a copy of Geraniums in return for an honest review. I so enjoyed Marlene’s writing in Off Island, reviewed here, that I knew I would enjoy Geraniums and I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by The Book Guild on 28th April 2022, Geraniums is available for purchase here.


Lily Preston, clever beyond her years, is only four when she realises her family is headed for disaster. While she, older sister Mags and younger brother Artie are dragged around America and the world during the 1960s and early ’70s by their military father Jack, he propels their mother, gentle, green-fingered Lauren Rose, to the edge of insanity through mental and physical abuse. A cat-and-mouse game of escape and entrapment ensues, testing Lily’s resilience, resourcefulness and family loyalty to the limit.

Jack, an emotionally scarred war veteran, enlists the help of his equally formidable mother Emma to turn his children against the fragile Lauren Rose and drive her away. Their next mission is to make Lily and her siblings conform to a strict, unforgiving code of behaviour and crush their spirited natures. Rebellion is met with increasingly harsh penalties.

Jack brings new women into his children’s lives, but Lily vows that, no matter what, she will one day trace her real mother, compelled to by the enduring bond between them. Love arrives in the form of high-school sweetheart Diego, who helps her in her quest to break free from Jack and Emma’s control. When their persecution of her reaches bizarre new heights, Lily is forced to stand up to them in public and assert her right to independence, a college education, the chance to fulfil her dream of becoming a writer… once she has achieved the longed-for reunion with her mother.

My Review of Geraniums

Lily’s life is a struggle.

Geraniums is a beautifully written and compelling literary fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. Marlene Hauser has a style that ensnares the reader because of her ability to step inside the minds of her characters and enable the reader to experience, through them, the events of the novel. There’s a painterly writing style too, with descriptions that place the reader at the heart of the narrative.

The plot is elegantly wrought, with Lily’s perspective leading the reader through the events of her family’s life in such a realistic way that it is clear any generic family could be just as dysfunctional, controlling and abusive as Jack’s so that Geraniums makes the reader realise that we never truly know those around us or understand quite what they may be capable of doing.

The characterisation is a triumph. I wanted to loathe Jack completely and yet Marlene Hauser made sure I understood why he and his vile mother Emma behaved the way they did so that both of them gained my sympathy on occasion, even as I wanted their complete destruction and downfall. The desire for public recognition and personal affirmation after abusive and traumatic pasts is so clear in their behaviours that I think reading Geraniums gives a clarity to the reader about how we shouldn’t be too quick to measure, judge or respond to others.

I loved Lily unreservedly. That’s not to say that she isn’t flawed, being stubborn, duplicitous and devious at times, but again it is circumstance that makes her as she is so that she feels alive and vivid. I was desperate for her to succeed. Although Geraniums spans many years and has quite an extensive cast of secondary characters, it always feels intimate and intense, because each person encountered along the way adds depth to the narrative.

I thought the title Geraniums was inspired. I have no idea if this was deliberate, but with the symbolism for geraniums being happiness and friendship, this is exactly what they represent for Lauren Rose, being literally smashed to pieces even as her dreams are being metaphorically destroyed. Geraniums can also represent cleverness and ingenuity – both traits that Lily has – so that this book feels carefully and meticulously crafted. Not a word is wasted in Marlene Hauser’s exquisite prose.

Whilst the themes of Geraniums are dark and disturbing with abusive relationships and violence at the core, this is not a depressing book. Rather, it feels tender and insightful because, through Lily, the reader finds positivity. Poor mental health, manipulation, coercive relationships, PTSD and crime are certainly major themes, but so too are strength and resilience, loyalty, determination, endeavour and success so that it feels as if all life can be found between the pages of this slim novel.

I really enjoyed Geraniums. It’s one of those stories that remains with the reader long after the book is closed, making them think about its characters and themes and wonder what is happening to them now. Geraniums deserves a wide audience because it is a piercing insight into humanity and what makes us who we are. Don’t miss it.

About Marlene Hauser

Marlene Hauser is a professional writer based in Oxford, UK, where she lives with her husband and teenage son. She served as editor of the Writer’s New York City Source Book and originated the television film Under the Influence, going on to serve as Associate Producer and Technical Consultant. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and has received numerous awards, including a residency at the Millay Arts Colony in Upstate New York.

For more information you can visit Marlene’s website or follow her on Twitter @mhauser_author, Facebook and Instagram.

One thought on “Geraniums by Marlene Hauser

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.