Thursday, 5 June 2008

Rose Tremain wins Orange ... HURRAH!

One hundred years ago a great friend told me about Rose Tremain's short stories, and since then I haven't stopped reading her work. She's written at least two collections of short stories and ten novels and today, wonderful writer that she is, Rose Tremain has won the Orange Prize for Fiction with her tenth novel, The Road Home (a wonderful portrait of an eastern European immigrant and his struggles to settle here and, more importantly, to find that place that we all long to call home). Tremain's work has been shortlisted for the Booker and for the Orange before, but this is the first time it has won. I can't think why it hasn't happened before. Her work is brilliant and deserves all the awards.

I've read every novel she has written (she's been writing for more than thirty years), but if you haven't, I recommend Restoration, whose central character, Robert Merivel, physician, transforms himself from King Charles II's idiotic vet (and cuckold) into an empathetic and wise-before-his-time doctor at a Quaker asylum for the insane. This, as Merivel tells what has been revealed to him about the treatment of the insane, had me in tears:

'Madness may be born of many things but yet for all except those who are lunatic from their births there was a Time Before, a time when there was no madness in them ... madness is not a static thing but, just as all things in the world are changeful, so is madness and, like them, may change for the better or for the worse. But we do not ask what were the Footsteps of each case of madness ... and we should try with each one of those in our care to look back into past time and ask them to ... remember how it was to be in the Time Before and what thing or calamity came about to put them into the Sickening Time ... .' And now [out] poured all my ... cures by dancing, my suggestions for story-telling and the playing of music.
Or there's the wonderful Music and Silence set in King Christian IV of Denmark's court (1630) who lives in fear for his life and his country's ruin, and his wife's not-so-secret adultery. He comforts himself with music which is played by his Royal Orchestra in the freezing cellar at Rosenborg, while he listens in his cosy Vinterstue above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves but Kirsten, his devious wife, detests music.Or you could try The Colour, which is set in the New Zealand Gold Rush of the mid-19th century (I never knew there was a New Zealand Gold Rush until I read The Colour) - to which Harriet and Joseph Baxter (and his mother) have fled from East Anglia to escape the consequences of something he did ... and to build a new life.
All Tremain's work is peopled with vivid and often strange characters, and will live long after you've read it in your head because of its glorious settings and, above all, its emotional and psychological honesty. She's written seven other novels that I haven't even mentioned, but read her work ... you won't be disappointed.

Here's a big HURRAH for Rose Tremain (and for the friend who told me about her all those years ago).

1 comment:

verbivore said...

I've never read Tremain but you've definitely convinced me. What a wonderful passage you quote above. I'll see if I can find a copy of Restoration to start with!