Tremain, Rose 1943-
Tremain, Rose 1943-
Born August 2, 1943, in London, England; daughter of Keith Nicholas Home (a writer) and Viola Mabel; married Jon Tremain, May 7, 1972 (divorced October, 1976); married Jonathan Dudley, 1976 (divorced, 1990); children: (first marriage) Eleanor Rachel. Education: Sorbonne, University of Paris, diploma in literature, 1963; University of East Anglia, B.A. (with honors), 1967. Politics: Liberal Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, swimming, yoga.
Home—Norwich, England. Agent—Vivien Green, Sheil Land Associates, 43 Doughty St., London WC1N 2LF, England.
Elementary school teacher of French and history in London, England, 1967-69; British Printing Corporation, London, editor, 1970-71; writer, 1970—. Part-time lecturer at University of East Anglia, 1988-95.
Fellow, University of Essex, 1979-80, and Royal Society of Literature, 1983; selected as one of Twenty Best of Young British Novelists, Granta, 1983; Dylan Thomas Short Story Prize, 1984; Giles Cooper Award, best play, 1984, for radio play Temporary Shelter; Angel Literary Award for The Swimming Pool Season; Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, 1989, Booker Prize nomination, and inclusion in Publishers Weekly list of Best Books of the Year, 1990, all for Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England; James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1993, and Prix Femina Etranger, both for Sacred Country; Whitbread Prize, 1999, for Music and Silence; Hon. D.Litt., University of East Anglia, 2000; awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honors List, for services to literature; Orange Broadband Prize for women's literature, 2008, for The Road Home.
Sadler's Birthday, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.
Letter to Sister Benedicta, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.
The Cupboard, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1981.
The Swimming Pool Season, Summit (New York, NY), 1985.
Journey to the Volcano (young adult), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1985.
Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Sacred Country, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.
The Way I Found Her, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1997, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
Music and Silence, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1997, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
The Colour, Farrar Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
The Road Home, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2007.
The Colonel's Daughter, Summit (New York, NY), 1984.
The Garden of the Villa Mollini and Other Stories, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1987.
Evangelista's Fan, Thorndike Press (Thorndike, ME), 1995.
Collected Short Stories, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1996.
The Darkness of Wallis Simpson and Other Stories, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2005.
The Fight for Freedom for Women, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1971.
Stalin, an Illustrated Biography, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1974.
The Wisest Fool, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-Radio; London, England), 1976.
Dark Green, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1977.
Blossom, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1977.
Don't Be Cruel, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1978.
Leavings, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1978.
Down the Hill, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1979.
Half Time, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1980.
The Kite Flyer, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1985.
Music and Silence (based on the book of the same name), BBC-Radio (London, England), 1992.
Who Was Emily Davison?, BBC World Service (London, England), 1994.
Temporary Shelter, BBC-Radio (London, England), 1996.
The End of Love, BBC World Service (London, England), 1999.
Hallelujah Mary Plum, BBC-TV (London, England), 1980.
Findings on a Late Afternoon, BBC-TV (London, England), 1981.
A Room for the Winter, BBC-TV (London, England), 1982.
One Night in Winter, BBC World Service (London, England), 2000.
Contributor to anthologies, including Seven Deadly Sins, Severn, 1985, and Cheatin' Hearts: A Collection of Women's Secrets, Serpent's Tail, 1999.
Contributor to Best Radio Plays of 1984: The Giles Cooper Award Winners, Methuen/BBC Publications, 1985.
The Way I Found Her was adapted for film by the author.
Rose Tremain's talent was widely recognized early in her writing career when she was included on the prestigious Twenty Best of Young British Novelists list, which placed her in the company of Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, and Ian McEwan. Since appearing on the list, Tremain has advanced her reputation with additional novels, short story collections, radio and television scripts, and a prestigious Whitbread Award. In her work, Tremain has spoken through a widely varied cast of characters, including an elderly butler, a transgendered person, a seventeenth-century rake, and a precocious adolescent. "Beware of Rose Tremain," warned Laurie Stone in Artforum. "Her novels will swallow you. You will feel rescued from yourself, until the damn book ends and you have to resume living in your own head again. You will feel abandoned and disheveled, as after a debauch. Her characters go through a similar process. They suffer and learn and come out tattooed with knowledge that is burdensome and marking but preferable to agonizing stupidly."
Often Tremain's people are lonely and unfulfilled, but the author writes of their lives so sympathetically that their stories have been called uplifting by numerous reviewers. As Stone noted, the author's novels "unravel consciousness more than manners. Society, power, and politics aren't central, but rather loneliness, isolation, and the yearning for connection. Consolation rises from her candid voices, chipping away at shame." In a review for Time International, Kate Noble stated: "For Tremain, the connecting thread among her novels is the idea of exclusion. She explores ‘the individual feeling excluded and yearning to arrive somewhere where he or she feels included,’ she says." According to Claire Messud in the New York Times Book Review, "One is struck, before [Tremain's] fine and diverse fictions, not merely by the pleasures of their prose but by the rigor of Tremain's literary risk-taking and by the virtuosic acuity with which she inhabits her characters—in short, by the formidable mind behind her work."
Tremain's first novel, Sadler's Birthday, traces the life of an English butler from his isolated childhood through his years of faithful service, from his one love—an unrequited one for a young boy who visits the manor house—to his old age, when he inhabits the estate his former employers have willed to him, because they have no living kin. "This could have been a depressing story, but not as … Tremain tells it," declared John Mellors in Listener. "She has the knack of using humour, especially in dialogue, to hold the reader's sympathy with her characters in their predicament. Sadler's Birth-day is funny, sad and accurate; not many first novels combine imagination and discipline to this degree." Joyce Carol Oates commented in the New York Times Book Review on Tremain's dignified treatment of her subject, calling the book "an elegiac tribute to the special insights that attend extreme loneliness…. Sadler's Birthday is a rather special work, a simple novel that dwells lovingly upon the details of simple lives without condescension or bitterness." A New Yorker contributor called Sadler's Birthday a "sinewy, touching first novel…. This is a short book, but one feels that it says all there is to say about English servants of a bygone era."
In Letter to Sister Benedicta, Ruby Constad has been trapped in an unhappy marriage for years. When her husband, Leon, suffers a stroke after discovering their children's incestuous love affair, Ruby reexamines her life and resolves many of her inner conflicts through a series of letters to Sister Benedicta, a nun who was her teacher in India years ago and who is most certainly long dead. Tremain followed this book with The Cupboard, a novel that received considerably more attention—both positive and negative—than the author's first two novels. In The Cupboard, Tremain contrasts two lives: the vibrant, rich life of Erica, an elderly writer, and the bland, empty existence of Ralph, the American journalist who interviews her.
"The Cupboard has its defects, but it is a much more ambitious work than the earlier two novels," asserted Savkar Altinel in a review for the London Times Literary Supplement. "Both Sadler's Birthday and Letter to Sister Benedicta [are] essentially static, and [take] place largely inside the heads of their protagonists. Here there is an attempt to establish an objective situation, and use it as a basis for narrative…. When it comes to depicting psychological injuries [Tremain] has few rivals, and the images of human pain she conjures up … make this a very moving novel." Los Angeles Times contributor Art Seidenbaum commented on Tremain's achievement, declaring that The Cupboard "is an original, in content and form, a passionate and persuasive story about a writer who put the world before her work, who managed to control her life during nine decades…. [Erica] is a memorable creation, a woman whose ordinary conversation describes an extraordinary person. Dignity and drama illuminate these pages; so does a sense of human decency."
Several critics found the characters in The Cupboard to be problematic and unsympathetic. Spectator reviewer James Lasdun declared: "The trouble, from the reader's point of view, is that Erica's life is simply too wonderfully passionate to be true…. This is a glamourised cocktail of various literary lives, and in its efforts to present an image of vitality in contrast with the journalist's dismal vision of contemporary life, it becomes all too frequently cloying." Helen Angel also found Erica a less-than-captivating character, writing in the British Book News that her reminiscences "seem tediously protracted, and the self-conscious allegorical excerpts from her novels are unequal to the claims made for their importance…. Tremain creates some memorably eccentric characters and some vivid scenes. But, in spite of her inventiveness, this novel is laboured and contrived." Nicholas Shakespeare took a very different view in his Times evaluation, in which he stated that the downfall of The Cupboard is in its other main character, the journalist Ralph. "Worried about his unwatered herbs in New York and obsessed by the unpopularity of Americans, he hopes that by gobbling up Erica's life he will make some sense of his own. His whining does not seriously detract from the author's achievement, but it is easy to see why his editor sacks him."
After publication of The Cupboard, Tremain released her first book of short stories. The collection, titled The Colonel's Daughter, prompted Village Voice Literary Supplement contributor David Leavitt to praise the "aristocratic, almost Jamesian elegance" in Tremain's writing and to call two of the stories—"Wedding Night" and "Autumn in Florida"—"remarkable, flawlessly controlled fictions, the work of a master." Elaine Kendall also responded to the collection favorably, writing in the Los Angeles Times: "Each of these stories is a stunning solitaire, faceted and set to show a particular theme to best advantage. Considered as a collection, they demonstrate the author's astonishing versatility…. Summarizing these stories is as unfair as showing a handful of colored stones and expecting you to imagine the crown jewels. The ultimate dazzle depends more upon the design than the intrinsic value of the material."
Tremain's next novel, The Swimming Pool Season, is a richly textured story of the interconnections between the lives of the people in a French provincial town. While the book was lauded by numerous reviewers, it was also faulted by some who characterized Tremain's lush language as ultimately distracting. In a review for the Washington Post Book World, Robb Forman Dew stated: "Each one of [the large cast of characters] is granted a point of view of equal weight in an unusually fluid and persuasive narrative. There are no breaks or hesitations as events are perceived by one character and then by another, so that the reader is at the center, and it is he who must assign value and make moral judgments…. Tremain's intention is enormous, her passion generous, her voice inventive and even compelling."
Tremain has stated that she constantly searches for new challenges as a writer. In Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England, she jumps from the contemporary settings that mark her previous work to the decadent period of English history in the 1600s known as the Restoration. Tremain's protagonist, Robert Merivel, becomes a favorite at the court of King Charles II and plunges wholeheartedly into the excesses of aristocratic life. When he falls from the king's favor, he is forced to confront the grim realities of the life of the common man. The book was well received by critics, many of whom found in it both an enthralling narrative and an effective metaphor for the modern world.
"The title of this novel, Restoration, has a dual meaning. It refers to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 after the Cromwellian interlude and to the restoration of the hero's spiritual sanity in an age of greed and sensual excess very much like our own," stated Florence King in the New York Times Book Review. "Readers of this splendid story … will find that the title has yet a third meaning: … Tremain, its author, has restored the historical novel to its rightful place of honor after nearly two decades of degeneration into the sweet-savage imbecility of so-called historical romance." Sarah Harvey concurred in a review for the Toronto Globe and Mail that "reading (indeed rereading) Restoration is a great pleasure, since … Tremain adroitly avoids all the excess of costume drama and historical romance without sacrificing or even diminishing drama, history, or romance." Angeline Goreau commented in Washington Post Book World: "Tremain has chosen to write a novel set in the Restoration, I suspect, because in one important sense at least it offers a powerful metaphor for the present…. Restoration, whether or not one chooses to read it as analogy, offers a brilliantly written, originally conceived exploration of what it means to live in concert with one's own time—or outside of it."
Following Restoration, Tremain returned to the setting of her work to the twentieth century, and her subject matter in Sacred Country represents another ambitious reach on her part. According to Michele Field in a review for Publishers Weekly, the author "quite deliberately set out to write a novel about gender, about the fluidity of sexual identity and about transsexuality in particular." In Sacred Country, a girl growing up in a small English village feels early in life that she is a male trapped in a female body. "I spent a lot of time with transsexuals of both genders" while preparing for the book, Tremain told Field. "I was interested in the dilemma [presented] when the vision in the mirror does not square with the internal vision. Sacred Country is about several characters discovering what their contribution can be to society, what they can offer. The transsexual person is a metaphor for all of us: someone who has this better, brighter self inside."
Times Literary Supplement reviewer Penelope Fitzgerald declared that Sacred Country is "a strong, complex, unsentimental novel, luscious in some passages, wonderfully restrained in others." New Statesman and Society reviewer Carole Angier commented that the novel was not exactly to her taste, but she admitted that the author's talent was undeniable: "Tremain cannot write a bad book. This one doesn't work for me. Yet it is still probably one of the best novels published this year. There are at least two or three breathtaking lines on each page…. The language is of such intense individuality, such pared-down poetry, that you begin to tire, as though you were being offered a whole meal of caviar. It's so good it's almost bad, like going so far east you come back west again."
The Way I Found Her offers a twist on the standard coming-of-age tale. The book's narrator, Lewis Little, unravels a mystery and puts himself in danger while in pursuit of adult understanding. Lewis spends the summer in Paris, France, while his beautiful and adulterous mother translates the latest novel by the Russian writer Valentina Gavril. Intellectually precocious but still clinging to vestiges of his boyhood, Lewis falls in love with Valentina and mounts his own private investigation when she is kidnapped. Messud observed: "The novel's narrator is caught in that moment of adolescence when he presumes understanding in order to seem grown up rather than asking, as a child would, for explanations."
A number of critics especially praised Tremain's characterization of Lewis in The Way I Found Her. New Statesman contributor Amanda Craig, for instance, noted that Lewis "is a rare and convincing portrait of an intelligent being on the cusp of adulthood." Craig continued: "So few English novels are addressed to grown-ups, rather than those in a state of prolonged adolescence, that Tremain's refusal to shred her narrator's dignity is particularly daring." Stone likewise found Lewis to be "a great original. And it is in this character that the book lives with greatest richness and unpredictability, in the way we spend ordinary time with Lewis, wandering the streets and mulling over conversations and characters from books, discovering his values and cleaving to them, not out of priggishness or fear but from a desire to be himself, no matter the pressure to please others." According to Messud, The Way I Found Her "is at once a mystery story, a psychological exploration and a novel of ideas. That it should succeed and provoke on these various levels pays high tribute to Tremain's intellect; that it should do so while remaining as apparently weightless and as thoroughly engaging as any precocious adolescent's account of his summer holidays is a testament to Rose Tremain's superlative storytelling gifts."
In Music and Silence, Tremain offers another outsized historical novel, which won the Whitbread Award, one of Great Britain's most important literary prizes. A great many characters come and go in the book, but all of them add a dimension to Tremain's exploration of political power and personal futility. Centered on the character of King Christian IV of seventeenth-century Denmark, the novel is "intricately structured, not just in its action but in the elaborate pattern of imagery—to do with music, silence and, more eccentrically, buttons—that Tremain twines around her narrative snippets," Michael Upchurch stated in the New York Times Book Review. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Music and Silence "dazzlingly imaginative, powerfully atmospheric," and "a triumph of storytelling by a master of the art." In a review for the New York Times, Richard Eder stated: "The wit, the humane impulses, the mixture of self-awareness and self-deception, the glints of charm, make of [the characters] far more than what they represent." Eder concluded that Music and Silence "is vital, wise and, when it is not stumbling over its spells, spell-binding." Craig wrote of Tremain: "What is particularly exciting about her is that she is still developing. Where many of her peers rehash the same material with less and less inspiration, Tremain's novels grow with organic speed—to read them is to see the words swarm and teem on the page like cells under a microscope." Craig concluded that the author "immerses us in an art that seems all too like life."
The Colour is a novel set in nineteenth-century New Zealand during the age of its gold rush. Harriet, a former governess, and Joseph, a gambler with a checkered past, have emigrated from England to make their fortune. Spectator contributor Sebastian Smee wrote that "desire, in an impressively wide variety of manifestations, courses freshly through [Tremain's] characters, keeping the narrative fizzing along like a cold, clear mountain stream." Joseph does not want children, and Harriet is lonely and resentful. When they befriend a family with a child, Harriet realizes the hopelessness of her situation and her marriage. To add to these complications, Joseph finds gold on their land, at which point his lust for it dominates their lives. "This is a historical novel whose foundation in reality matters not a jot, because it is as an artist that she excels," Craig wrote. "Just as the settlers attempt to ‘transform’ their new world into a survivable approximation of the old, they are themselves changed by it, metamorphosed into beings who command compassion even if, like Joseph, they are repulsively selfish and low." Booklist reviewer Brad Hooper noted that "Tremain lives up to the soaringly high standards set by Restoration."
In a review of The Darkness of Wallis Simpson and Other Stories, Spectator contributor D.J. Taylor commented on Tremain's use of symbolism. For example, in "The Beauty of the Dawn Shift," a German border guard takes with him a lemon, a precious fresh fruit, when he cycles to Russia in search of salvation. "Nativity Story" features a chef who is going to present his son with a perfect oyster shell. Taylor wrote that these symbols "are, in the end, only signposts along the path to a more abstract world; that lost Elysian field from which most of Tremain's characters find themselves eternally debarred." In "Loves Me, Loves Me Not," an American veteran returns to London, England, to see the girl he left behind a half century earlier. Taylor called the collection's stories "a striking example of the form's ability—rare in these days of disappearing markets and publishers' indifference—to take on a life of its own."
The Road Home, winner of the Orange Broadband Prize, was evaluated by Lesley McDowell in a review for the Independent Online. McDowell compared the protagonist, Lev, to that of John Steinbeck's Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. Like Tom, Lev, an Eastern European, is trying to improve his lot. With a young daughter and elderly mother, Lev is a widower who travels to London in search of a decent wage. He finds only low-paying work and finally contacts Lydia, a woman he met on the train. She gives him aid, and while having dinner with Lydia and her wealthy friends, Lev decides that he wants a similar life. It is not affluent Britons who help him, however, but other immigrants, like the owner of the kebab shop whose leaflets Lev distributes, and Christy, the Irish plumber who is his landlord. McDowell commented: "The isolation of the immigrant is something that Tremain never loses sight of: Christy and Lev bond through their mutual loneliness." Lev finds work washing dishes at the upscale restaurant of Gregory Ashe, but even as he is exposed to the life he seeks, it is impossible for him to imagine ever attaining it.
Spectator reviewer Digby Durrant concluded: "Tremain writes as effortlessly and rhythmically as she breathes, tackling the serious misery of a hidden homesickness with a light and humane touch but with a firm grasp of the day-to-day realities and a rare ability to enter into the complex emotional world of the stranger."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Artforum, summer, 1998, Laurie Stone, review of The Way I Found Her, p. 22B.
Booklist, January 1, 2004, Brad Hooper, review of The Colour, p. 777; July 1, 2008, Marta Segal Block, review of The Road Home, p. 37.
Bookseller, June 6, 2008, Anna Richardson, "Tremain Takes Orange Home," author information, p. 12.
British Book News, March, 1982, Helen Angel, review of The Cupboard, pp. 185-186.
Financial Times, June 5, 2008, Peter Aspden, "Tremain Novel Wins Orange Prize," author information, p. 4.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 7, 1990, Sarah Harvey, review of Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of The Colour, p. 567; August 15, 2008, review of The Road Home.
Library Journal, May 15, 2003, Starr E. Smith, review of The Colour, p. 127; May 1, 2008, Sally Bissell, review of The Road Home, p. 60.
Listener, April 22, 1976, John Mellors, review of Sadler's Birthday, p. 518.
Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1982, Art Seidenbaum, review of The Cupboard; April 23, 1984, Elaine Kendall, review of The Colonel's Daughter.
New Statesman, May 30, 1997, Amanda Craig, review of The Way I Found Her, p. 56; May 5, 2003, Craig, review of The Colour, p. 44.
New Statesman and Society, September 4, 1992, Carole Angier, review of Sacred Country, p. 39.
New Yorker, August 1, 1977, review of Sadler's Birthday, p. 68.
New York Times, April 24, 2000, Richard Eder, review of Music and Silence, p. E8; May 7, 2003, Richard Eder, review of The Colour, p. E7; June 6, 2008, "British Writer Wins Fiction Prize," author information, p. E2.
New York Times Book Review, July 24, 1977, Joyce Carol Oates, review of Sadler's Birthday, pp. 14-15; April 15, 1990, Florence King, review of Restoration, p. 7; August 2, 1998, Claire Messud, review of The Way I Found Her; April 30, 2000, Michael Upchurch, review of Music and Silence; July 6, 2003, John Vernon, review of The Colour, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, April 5, 1993, Michele Field, review of Sacred Country, pp. 50-51; February 28, 2000, review of Music and Silence, p. 60; April 7, 2003, review of The Colour, p. 45; April 21, 2008, review of The Road Home, p. 30.
Spectator, January 9, 1982, James Lasdun, review of The Cupboard, p. 22; May 17, 2003, Sebastian Smee, review of The Colour, p. 63; November 19, 2005, D.J. Taylor, review of The Darkness of Wallis Simpson and Other Stories, p. 59; June 23, 2007, Digby Durrant, review of The Road Home.
Time International, January 31, 2000, Kate Noble, review of Music and Silence, p. 75.
Times (London, England), October 15, 1981, Nicholas Shakespeare, review of The Cupboard.
Times Literary Supplement (London, England), October 16, 1981, Savkar Altinel, review of The Cupboard, p. 1206; September 4, 1992, Penelope Fitzgerald, review of Sacred Country.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1984, David Leavitt, review of The Colonel's Daughter, p. 3.
Washington Post Book World, August 4, 1985, Robb Forman Dew, review of The Swimming Pool Season, p. 7; April 22, 1990, Angeline Goreau, review of Restoration, p. 11.
Independent Online (London, England), http://www.independent.co.uk/ (June 24, 2007), Lesley McDowell, review of The Road Home.
Observer Online (London, England), http://www.observer.co.uk/ (June 29, 2008), Ally Carnwath, interview.
Times Online (London, England), http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ (June 5, 2008), Dalya Alberge, "Rose Tremain Wins Orange Prize for The Road Home."
Wisdom and Sense Web log,http://www.wisdom-andsense.blogspot.com/ (October 13, 2006), Elena Dedukhina, "Interview with Rose Tremain" (first published in Knizhnaya Vitrina, June, 2006).