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Goodbye Rosie, Hello Rose

I am a huge fan of Rose Tremain. She is an author who always writes and observes beautifully, but does not have just one book within her, regurgitated in different ways. She constantly surprises.

So I was interested to read what looked like a remarkably slim autobiography, Rosie : Scenes From A Vanished Life

That ‘vanished life’ is Rosie herself, as she claimed her true identity as Rose

This is beautifully written, but curiously distanced, distancing.

Born into a rather privileged background, at least in terms of status and finance – her stepfather was after all a ‘Sir’ and her real father’s cousin, her childhood was nonetheless curiously lacking in parental attention, encouragement and warm regard. In fact, her mother, referred to as ‘Jane’ by Tremain, and not by any maternal appellation, had lacked love and affection herself as a child, and had also been called by a name she disliked, rechristening herself as Jane.

Rosie’s First Birthday

Children – and the adults they become, sustain damage from absent affection, they don’t have to be actively ill-treated to bear wounds.

I found myself wondering about the kind of distance with which Rose writes about herself. This isn’t a ‘misery memoir’ but it does have a kind of lack of warmth in it. I found this unsettling because she is a writer whose characters are warmly and fully regarded by her. The reader of a Tremain novel is drawn into feeling that they really know her complex and beautifully rounded characters. Yet, the sense here is that Tremain did not really want the reader to know Rosie. Somehow, the child and the young girl sent off to be ‘finished’ in Switzerland, rather than pursue the academic route she wanted are seen through a screen. Which is a curious place to be writing some kind of autobiography from

Rosie, her loving and beloved Nannie Nan, and her sister Jo

This is rather like picking up a collection of faded snapshots, which have intriguing titles, but they are incomplete, part of a larger collection, which probably were mounted in sequence in an album, and told a larger story, but this is missing.

This is probably one which will be most interesting to those who love and know her writing. As she is at pains to point out, she is not an ‘autobiographical’ novelist per se, but certainly small events make their way into the novels and stories, and she references these.

There was one recounted incident where Rose drew me close to Rosie, and I felt great grief for her. Her inspired music teacher at the boarding school she was sent away to, arranged for a concert to be given by her pupils. A prestigious one, at the Royal Festival Hall. Though open to the public, the majority of the most expensive seats would be bought by proud families. Who would then take their children out for a congratulatory tea. Except Rosie’s mother and stepfather did not come. She wrote to her real father (who had abandoned his family for a liaison with another woman) He was a writer, and also a keen pianist himself. Though he did come, he left at the interval, after Rosie had played, and did not come back to take his daughter for tea

In conclusion, I liked this very much indeed, but remain slightly confused as to the purpose of its writing. There is half the sense of a catharsis (perhaps) for the writer – except that the feeling I was left with was an unresolved, and even covert anger and resentment (completely understandable) still within the child inside the woman.

Here is a wonderful excerpt, a moment of epiphany, an ‘aha’ moment, where the idea of writing, as something profound and meaningful, hit the thirteen year old

The perfume of the day, the heat of my body after the tennis game, the sky the colour of coral, the silence surrounding me – all combined to fill me, suddenly, with a profound feeling of wonder, a fleeting sense of the marvellous, which, in its intensity, was almost a visionary experience.

I told myself that if I continued standing still, this moment would last and might even change me in some way that I couldn’t quite foresee. But I stood there so long that the sun almost disappeared and the field became full of shadows. And with the dusk came a feeling of desolation. The desolation was simply a mundane recognition of the fleeting nature of everything, which even teenagers (or perhaps especially teenagers) understand. A moment of happiness as intense as this slips quickly away with the turning of the earth. So I asked myself, there in the hayfield, with the swear of the tennis game drying down my back and making me shiver: was there any way in which the experiences of my life, like this one, could be captured and locked away, not just in capricious, gradually fading memory, but in some more concrete form

Rosie UK
Rosie USA