Filigenzi writes well and the plot moves its readers along, never boring them or dwelling too much on any particular point. There are a number of plot twists to surprise us and keep us wondering where we are going. At times the writing is quite poetic and at other times it is full of tension. The two chapters describing Emma's rape and subsequent experiences in hospital are very well written. The emotion is quite palpable. As just one example the reader should note the subtle comparison between the rapist's "dark, rough whiskers" which "scratched" Emma's face and the "scratchy hospital blanket" which covers her when she awakes from her ordeal to face yet another ordeal of investigative prying. The narration shifts from character to character and we see experiences from first one point of view and then another. This Postmodernist technique allows us to see deeper into the narrating characters and reveals the inadequacies of point of view. What one character thinks of another is incomplete, biased and occasionally quite wrong. There is one example of imagery associated with the title of the book (which I will not describe in order to avoid spoiling the reading experience), but beyond this symbolism is absent. Just as a word of warning, there are mild sex scenes in the novel and occasional course language, both of which may offend conservative readers. Clover Doves, however, would certainly not qualify as erotica. Sex is of course a normal part of romantic relationships and most modern readers will have no trouble accepting Filigenzi's tasteful depictions.
The characters are very likable, though they possess personality failings, and the reader immediately empathises with them and hopes the best for them. Even Cassie, who is a classic `bad' mother, has hidden depths as we come to know her better, recognising our own failings. All of the five main characters, Emma, Eric, Jared, Cassie and James, Emma's guilt ridden father, are well rounded, having a mix of good and bad points, which makes them quite believable and lifelike. All of these characters must struggle to grow and in some way, great or small, overcome their failings. Jared is the most `perfect' character, but even he has moments of jealousy and suffers from some lack of thought about the implications of his relationship with Emma.
As has already been indicated, the main theme is suffering and overcoming pain and difficulty. As Buddhist philosophers point out, the First Noble Truth is that life inherently involves "dukkha" or suffering, and that even in our happiest moments there is latent pain (Michael Carrithers. Buddha: A Very Short Introduction: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 55 - 57). Why do we suffer and what are we to do about it? Can we grow toward happiness, or is this the idle fantasy of the optimist? Does spirituality and psychological development offer at least some reconciliation with pain and suffering? These are the types of questions Emma must struggle with. There is also a related theme of relationships (in the form of family, friends and lovers). Personal connections can cause us pain, but can also heal. As the Existentialist Gabriel Marcel points out in Man Against Mass Society (Gateway, 1970) modern people "lack a sense of their own worth and are strangers to themselves and one another" (Thomas Flynn. Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 90). We are lonely, afraid and hurt but aid is near if we can overcome our resistance, our defensiveness. But of course no relationship is perfect or runs entirely smoothly. Death is the final, inevitable affliction and it too appears as a prominent theme in this novel. Once again from a Buddhist perspective, "without an awareness of death, life can only be lived on a shallow level" (Jane Hope. Introducing Buddha: Allen & Unwin, 1999, p. 31). We fear death, feel life is made meaningless by death and deny our own death (because when young it seems unreal and with age it seems too close). Since prehistoric times people have speculated about death and an afterlife and Emma, along with many, many others in this long tradition, is forced to contemplate her own mortality from a very young age. At sixteen she is beaten almost lifeless and the implications of this last for years to come. Closely allied to death is the theme of violence and war. Aggression is of course usually avoided, but is it sometimes a solution to extreme problems? Do we sometimes walk lightly into violence and what are its consequences? Is the immediate victim the only one to suffer? Of course life is complex and there are not always clear answers, and Filigenzi's text does not always offer hard and fast rules or solutions.
As has already been noted spirituality features prominently in this novel. We see references to the concepts of "Yin" and "Yang", "soul mates", "guardian angels" and the "afterlife". This is not surprising in a book which talks so much about death. The void of the unknown naturally comes to mind as we all contemplate our mortality. As Emma comments:
"Facing death with no spiritual belief is difficult, especially as a child. You're left with so many unanswered questions."
Causes Courtney Filigenzi Supports
American Cancer Society
Army of Women