Why? Was something amiss?
The opening chapter held great promise. Ten year-old Melodie is on a school trip to the countryside. She is new, and though she is with the group she is not really part of it. And so she wanders off, towards a stream where she sees something that makes her scream and scream…
It was well executed, it made me want to read on, I couldn’t pick out anything that was wrong, but it didn’t quite work. The prose was lovely but it didn’t quite allow Melodie to live and breathe as I was sure she could.
It would not be until much later in the book that Melodie would reappear; the story of what made her scream had to be told.
A stage was set: the village of La Callune in the Cevennes, an unspoilt, mountainous region in central France. Wonderfully described, but a sense of foreboding is ever-present.
Four principal characters were placed upon that stage:
- Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic who has retreated from the world and lives alone, with only his dogs for company, in his old family home.
- Audrun, his estranged sister, who lives in a bungalow nearby, who feels that she has been wronged.
- Veronica Vesey, a garden designer who has settled in La Callune with her companion Kitty, a mediocre painter of watercolours.
- Anthony, her brother, a London antique dealer, drawn to the area where his sister has settled.
An interesting quartet. Two very different pairs of siblings, with very different backgrounds and relationships. None of them easy to love, but all of them perfectly and distinctively painted in Rose Tremain’s wonderful prose.
They remained characters on a stage though, until the balance was upset: Anthony decided that he wanted to settle and Aramon decided that he was willing to sell. And that set off a series of events that would lead to dark tragedy.
It was then that the characters came to life and the story began to sing. A story with so much to say about sibling relationships, about the importance of having a place in the world, about what happens when cultures clash.
As the end approached it became clear what Melodie had seen, and I wished that I could learn more of her story.
I have to say that this isn’t Rose Tremain’s finest work, but the quality and range of her past work set expectations so very high, and I realise now that it is a better book than I thought while I was reading.
I haven’t grown to love the principal characters, but I would love to learn a little more of Melodie and Kitty, and the place, the atmosphere and the themes are still swirling in my head
The style and the themes hit, but for me, the emotional side of the story didn’t.
I’m still looking forward though to whatever Rose Tremain may write next.