Book Review for “A Single Rose” by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson.
Summary: “Rose has just turned forty when she gets a call from a lawyer asking her to come to Kyoto for the reading of her estranged father’s will. And so for the first time in her life she finds herself in Japan, where Paul, her father’s assistant, is waiting to greet her. As Paul guides Rose along a mysterious itinerary designed by her deceased father, her bitterness and anger are soothed by the stones and the trees in the Zen gardens they move through. During their walks, Rose encounters acquaintances of her father–including a potter and poet, an old lady friend, his housekeeper and chauffeur–whose interactions help her to slowly begin to accept a part of herself that she has never before acknowledged. As the reading of the will gets closer, Rose’s father finally, posthumously, opens his heart to his daughter, offering her a poignant understanding of his love and a way to accept all she has lost.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary; Japan (Kyoto); Other Categories: Novella, Translation, Coming-of-Age.
This is going to be a very difficult review to read because… OMG! Yeah, one of those, I know. And the thing is, I wasn’t expecting this. Yes, I’ve read Barbery before – first I read Hedgehog (which my sister lent to me) and then I bought a copy of The Gourmet (aka Gourmet Rhapsody), neither of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. From those two books I was sure I was in for a pretty read with some gentle self-realization in a soft story. What I didn’t expect was something so poetically written, it was a true joy to read. What I didn’t expect was a coming-of-age story together with a portrait woman trying to find herself in a world she’s never experienced. What I didn’t expect was a troubled character finding that the culture of Japan and its many temples and gardens could infuse her with such life-changing emotions.
But you see, that’s exactly what I got here, and more. In only about 160 pages, Barbery has written this story about Rose, a woman who has never met her father, and lived a difficult life, when she is called to Japan for the reading of his will. Admittedly, there’s are some magical-like elements to this story, but they’re all ones that happen within Rose as she visits the places her father put on her itinerary. So, whatever “magic” is here is more of a spiritual awakening for Rose than anything mystical or supernatural. Like I said before, I wasn’t expected to become so enchanted that now I’m absolutely longing to visit Japan to see these sites that Rose visits. (Trust me, that’s an accomplishment, because visiting anywhere in Asia has never been on my bucket list.)
The prose style here, as I said, is absolutely luscious, with emotions – both positive and painful – all tightly entangled into every description. Plus, every scene that Rose witnesses is so meticulously described that the images that Barbery conjured in my imagination were truly vivid. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been so struck by such beautiful language in a very long time – and I mean that only in the best way possible. It comes very close to being on a par with Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” with its sparse, yet extremely evocative style. Obviously, some of the kudos here go to Barbery’s translator, Alison Anderson, so wow and thanks!
Look, I could go on and on about this novella, but I think I’ll cut this review short because I’ll just get overly effusive and bore you all. No, this book isn’t for everyone. But I think that readers who appreciate character portraits, and who appreciate expertly crafted, highly poetic writing, will adore this book as much as I did. That’s why I cannot recommend this book more highly and I wish I could give it more than a full five stars out of five. If any of this review appeals to you, read it, because I truly doubt that you’ll regret picking this novella up! If what I’ve said sounds tedious to you, then just ignore it, and find something else to read. (But I’m hoping you’ll be the former, and not the latter.)
Europa Editions released “A Single Rose” by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson on September 28, 2021. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#36). Unfortunately, I read this too late for Women in Translation month, but still… I’m adding it to this year’s count anyway!