The Rose Grower
Grade : B+

The storming of the Bastille, Louis and Marie Antoinette caught in Varennes as they attempted to flee, the day Marat was assassinated. Today we know how all these events fit into the larger picture and how this all turned out, but for a family living far from Paris at the time all these events unfolded, the impact and consequences of what happened starting in 1789 is described in Ms. De Kretser’s first novel, The Rose Grower.

Stephen Fletcher, an American and amateur balloonist, falls from the sky in the small village of Montsignac, in southwestern France. He wakes only to fall in love with Claire, one of the Saint Pierre daughters. Claire is beautiful and ethereal and distant (and married to the odious, smelly Hubert de Monferrant), her sister Mathilde is just an 8-year-old girl, albeit a precocious one, and the third sister, Sophie, is the quiet, plain one, the one with a talent for growing and breeding roses. She is also the one who falls for Stephen. The three sisters are irrevocably linked to Stephen – he is in love with Claire, is much admired by Mathilde, and is loved by Sophie.

The Saint Pierres’ lives are also marked by the changing political climate in France, and danger is ever present around them, especially when Hubert becomes a counterrevolutionary and other characters come into play. A young doctor, Joseph Morel, comes to love Sophie and resents the place Stephen has in her heart, despite the fact that Stephen’s attachment to Claire doesn’t waver. Sophie, meanwhile, pours all her energies into growing her roses and eventually goes to work with Morel at the hospital. As Sophie spends years trying to breed a particular type of rose that has proved elusive so far, Joseph hopes to find happiness with her, and both goals are threatened by the changes sweeping the nation, and the constant possibility of betrayal.

Ms. de Kretser not only writes beautifully, but she can write about the minutiae of life without losing sight of the bigger picture. Even when we’re lost amidst Sophie’s roses or the small details of life, the inevitable looms in the distance. Her characters are wholly three-dimensional, whether it be 8-year-old Mathilde, who may react to something Stephen says by saying, “Oh no–another Rousseauist,” but is no annoying adult in miniature. Claire may be the vain sister who’s happily allowed Sophie to be the responsible one, but she is also human and we understand why it’s better all around that Sophie has taken over her duties. Even the family dog, Brutus, is a welcome addition and when Joseph asks what became of him, we care about the answer. Furthermore, there is insight into the different ideologies that clashed during the French Revolution. A group of wealthy revolutionaries may claim to stand for the ideals, but do they truly want to see all men as equal?

After spending a few days immersed in this rich read, I’m be looking forward to Ms. de Kretser’s next book.

Reviewed by Claudia Terrones

Grade: B+

Book Type: Historical Fiction

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : August 18, 2001

Publication Date: 2001

Review Tags: French Revolution

Recent Comments …

  1. I’ve not read The Burnout, but I’ve read other Sophie Kinsella’s books and they are usually hilarious rather than angsty…

Claudia Terrones

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