Book review: Love and death in the war of the roses
The Rose Grower by Michelle de Kretser Chatto pounds 10
Sunday 21 November 1999
De Kretser's writing is by turns poetic, metaphorical and delicately elliptical, capable of evoking a mood or a change in direction in the subtlest of ways. During his trial, Saint-Pierre finds a spider crouching "like a beauty spot" on the face of a bust by the door - "evidence of human fallibility". Morel's encounter with his beloved Sophie, the eponymous rose grower and the plain middle child of the Saint-Pierre family, is indicated obliquely: "The scent poured into his room, someone went clattering down the stairs, there was a button missing from his shirt." Roses recur as a trope of desire, both sensually and creatively; as an expression of that individual consciousness prohibited by loyalty to the Revolutionary movement. In nurturing her private obsession - to cultivate a truly crimson variety of rose (unknown in 18th-century Europe) - Sophie recognises the symbolic value of her task: roses are "like people ... liable to disconcert you, rarely running true to type". Sophie rejects the stultifying role ascribed to her by the Movement, and embraces instead a life of "accident and casual opportunity", which feeds into the novel's fateful outcome.
This is a richly-textured first novel by Sri Lankan-born de Kretser, whose deceptively simple narrative structure belies a complex interweaving of competing voices, and a sensitive understanding of the ideological conflicts at the heart of any war.
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