Cultural Life: Rose Tremain, novelist

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The Independent Culture


The highlight of my year was Trevor Nunn's production of King Lear. With Nunn's guiding intelligence and Ian McKellen's intuitive brilliance at work on the part, we see the seeds of Lear's disintegration right there in the first fatal scene. Uncomfortable in his clothes, desperate to amuse himself with a deliberately theatrical division of his kingdom and therefore tormented by Cordelia's refusal to join in his game, McKellen's Lear is slightly crazy from the get-go.


I went to a private showing of Atonement, Christopher Hampton and Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's fine novel. Everybody knows how difficult it is to turn serious fiction into a decent film and perhaps the quasi-glamorous viewing environment didn't help my response, but I left feeling disappointed. McEwan's informing idea is that the lives of a whole group of people are destroyed by one night's events and, in this film, the story (with its snapper ending) is prettily laid out, but you don't feel what lies at its "heart's core".


I've had a terrible year with books! I keep beginning things and hating them. I recently tried the new novel by that much-revered French author Patrick Modiano, Dans le Café de la Jeunesse Perdue, but although it plangently evokes my own student days in Paris, the story feels weak and the book languishes on my desk, as if trying helplessly to finish itself. In desperation, I've gone back to Henry James, but find that I now seriously hate The Spoils of Poynton. I guess it must be me.


Two of my favourite female vocalists, Madeleine Peyroux and k d lang, have brought out new albums in recent times: Peyroux's Half the Perfect World and k d's Watershed. I find I'm not yet as ravished by these as I still am by tracks such as "This Is Heaven to Me" and "The Consequences of Falling", from earlier albums, but these have been in my blood for years, not weeks, and familiarity makes music sweet.

Rose Tremain will be at Cambridge Wordfest ( on 29 March; 'The Road Home' is published by Chatto & Windus