Monday, 20 February 2012


I loved this novel. Absolutely adored it. Loved reading every page, every paragraph, every word. Rose Tremain is, in my opinion, an absolutely wonderful writer. Characters, setting, storyline and language all so superb that I am in awe.

Set in Southern France it tells the story of two families, both dysfunctional in different ways:

Veronica Verey is an English woman, living in France and earning a living as a garden designer. She is sensible, practical and devoted to her brother, Anthony, who is an antiques dealer in London. Having been, for a long time, highly successful and revered, his business is now in decline and he gets no pleasure from it or any of his young male lovers. So, when he comes to stay with Veronica, it is a last ditch attempt to find some happiness in his later years. And to this end, he decides that he will buy a property nearby. He loves beautiful buildings and beautiful artefacts, which he calls his 'beloveds.' And when he comes across an impressive old building, Mas Lunel, he falls in love with it.

At this stage in the novel, living in France appears to be idyllic: the beautiful landscape, the richness of the gardens and countryside, the drinking of red wine on the terrace as the sun sets. Who wouldn't want to live like that?

But the Mas Lunel is owned by the alcoholic, totally repugnant Aramon Lunel who is desperate in his own way to find some happiness after living an over indulgent life which has included the abuse of his sister, Audrun.

Audrun lives in a miserable little bungalow facing the house. She, too, has had an unfulfilling life and is disgusted by her brother's appearance and behaviour and his neglect of the house that was once her home. She has no intention of letting Aramon sell the house and has devised her own plan to reclaim and restore her old home.

Thus we have the seeds of conflict, compounded by the fact that Veronica's female companion, Kitty, hates Anthony, resentful that her lover is so attached to her brother.

Kitty feels liberated by Veronica from her insignificant past and has no intention of losing this new-found delight in life.

So, since this is a murder mystery novel, the question is which brother will be bumped off and by whom or will the victim be someone completely different.

Tremain also weaves into the story the hostility of some of the French towards rich foreigners who are buying up old houses and restoring them, thus making much of the property too expensive for the locals to buy. This is not done in a heavy-handed or preaching way but it did make me think about the morality of having second homes at the expense of local people.

I found all the characters, even the minor ones, well drawn and rounded. Some I liked, some I didn't but they all seemed very real and very human and very understandable. Tremain has a really good understanding of people and sometimes I felt that she was actually writing about me.

But the thing I like most about the novel was the language, so beautifully descriptive and evocative and enhancing the characters, the setting and the plot. At times it was like reading poetry. Thus, for me, a pure delight.

In the fairness of balance, John didn't enjoy the book. He was fascinated by the plot but skim-read most of it. Just goes to show that tastes in literature can vary so greatly.

1 comment:

DaftNotStupid said...

This is where Maggie and I differ. I found the writing tedious and the characters all without any value - I didn't care what happened to any of them. The plot was OK, but I'd've preferred it if it had been a short story - a very short story.