Rose Tremain… mmmm is this pseudonym for hedonistic romance I asked myself. I decided to read on after all, this novel was short listed for the Orange Broadband Prize.
This book is a compelling read and I did enjoy it! On the surface there is a lot to be admired, the polemic rifts unfold with ease creating an interesting visual dialogue, which kept me thumbing through the pages. But I found and this is a big but there were certain things that started to grate on my literary conscious. Tremain takes every opportunity to mock and criticize London Brit milieu with her backhanded slaps and weak comparisons. She subversively attacks Art, Literature, Theatre, and Cuisine. Her characters seem to be a parody for well-known icons such as GK Ashe/Gordon Ramsy, Howie Preece/ Damien Hirst and although this is amusing it’s way to obvious.
The story deals with the experience of immigrant workers from some indefinable Eastern European country arriving in Britain to seek work and a new life.
The plot, narrative, characterization, and language trouble me. Although this book is written in the third person with Lev as the main protagonist his character does not quite work in the role as a factory worker, from poor background; he is way to measured and philosophical. The other characters although sensitive and often enchanting are just to nice, to idealized and this is ok, but I am not wholly convinced it works or does it?
I can understand she is trying to break down stereotypes but frankly it comes across as patronsing. Would Lev’s character have been more believable if he had been cast as a woman his conversations with Christy border on the feminine, girl talk! Discussing love and children how many men do you know take up this kind of conversation!!
Considering Tremain is a practiced writer the language throughout her book is at times blousy, bland and lazy Pg 21 ‘Planes kept passing overhead, embroidering the sky with garlands of vapour.’! Feminine to the core! On Pg 215 she uses He at least four times to start a sentence ‘He began hitting his head.’ ‘He understood the words.’ ‘He had no idea,’ and so on and so on.
The worst literary crime Tremain commits is the introduction and use of Hamlet is this a pop at the literary canon? Lev presumably speaks and reads only a little English yet he reads this with no problem not that I am a fan of Shakespeare after all certain quarters thought he wrote for the masses and the illiterate so maybe this is the connection Tremain wants us to make!
The dialogue of the book does unfold with ease but it feels hurried in parts and the plot jumps about. Pg242-243 His relationship ends with Sophie the next thing we know he is in Suffolk picking veg; at this point we are half way through the book I would suggest Tremain is trying to move the narrative on to quickly and as a result the attention to detail starts to dissipate Pg 337 The novel take a huge leap again when Lev returns home.
The narrative is clumpy as events come and go I would suggest his ending with Sophie was tantamount to rape yet the author adds no recourse for this or elaborates it is left unresolved. The mugging another example or is this just a filler? The comparisons throughout the book lead us to believe that these incidents never occur in Eastern Europe Tremain would have us think Lev originated from a folk singing, dancing tableau where everyone loves their neighbour and political correctness is abound. Then we have the homosexual scene, which seems completely out of character and again this is left unresolved what was Tremain trying to do here pay lip service to political hot potatoes?
I find it unrealistic that someone in Lev’s position over a period of a year working two jobs no less could raise the ten thousand pounds to fund his enterprise, a bit unrealistic and not very plausible. This novel is just to dam nice, a good fairytale! I was disappointed by the ending you would think Lev would have been grateful for the dam after all it was his savoir. I suppose I should feel relieved Tramain did not end on a quote from Hamlet.