Monday, September 17, 2012

The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain

A mystery and a love story and a growing up story

This is the third novel I've read by Rose Tremain, and all three have been deeply moving. The subject matter and settings have been very different, but each book has been written with a high degree of technical artistry, founded on a bedrock of fully imagined three dimensional characters, rich with telling details and emotions.

Lewis Little, the precocious, highly literate, 13 year old narrator of The Way I Found Her, accompanies his mother to Paris, when she is working as a translator for an eccentric chubby Franco Russian historical novelist. (So we get a little commenting on the craft of writing novels). Though Lewis is very smart, there are many things going on between the adults in the story that he is not quite aware of or doesn't understand. And therefore sometimes the reader doesn't fully understand, but the fogginess is not unpleasant. All the characters are well rounded, unique -- Lewis's unwitting father back in England, his red headed passionate mother, the existentialist roofer, the middle aged novelist Lewis is in love with. The little dog is a compelling character as well as a plot device.

Lewis is translating a famous French novel about adolescence, Les Meulnes (which probably needs to be read to really appreciate the book). He also likes Crime and Punishment, and those two novels clank and bang around this one. The book is also a travelogue of Paris.

The grand finale is highly plotted, a bit like the end of Huckleberry Finn, where a thought provoking piece turns plotty, and though the ending felt fantastical, it felt right.

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