Rose Tremain – a mountain goat of a writer
Like a mountain goat, Tremain amazes by her agility and sure footedness, negotiating high peaks, impervious to the sheer and deadly drops beneath! In this book, the ‘drops’ or ‘traps’ which a lesser writer would have fallen into, she effortlessly avoids.
Her central character, whose life and writing we explore through conversations with an male American journalist, is a very elderly English woman, who has lived through most of the 20th century. Erica is a wonderful, fierce, tender, fragile, passionate and engaged woman. She has breathed in, engaged with, inspired, and been inspired by life. She, as Ralph, the journalist, discovers, lives with and through love – not only sexual love, but an ability to live from the heart and to really live a life in the moment. This means her life is large, joyous, terrifying, fraught with periods of madness, despair, doubt, pleasure etc etc.
Inevitably, in describing such a character, there is the danger for the writer, either of overblown and fulsome prose, or of failing to fully describe, becuase of a fear of being overblown. Tremain avoids these pitfalls – Erica is seen through the distancing device of the youngish, male American – and it is through his perpective on her and her writing, that we discover her. It is also through her effect on him which causes him to look at his own more narrow, mundane and disengaged life, that Tremain makes us look at our own lives – do we live ‘Ralph’ or do we live ‘Erica’.
Not only does Tremain ‘tell stories’ and explore characters beautifully – she is also a fine, fine, poetic writer – without ever ramming the beauty of her writing down your throat – there is no self-indulgence in her writing, just every now and again, a phrase or an image will stop you in your tracks and remind you how crafted her writing style, her choice of words, her structure is.
She is at the same time an ‘easy’ read – and a read of depth.
I’ve never read a book of hers which has not delighted me – they are all VERY different in subject matter – she is a writer with many, many books inside her, not one book endlessly re-presented.
Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.