Mystical Rose – Richard Scrimger (2001, Doubleday Canada)
One scan of the dustjacket and you know what you’re getting in for with Mystical Rose: this isn’t a happy book. In her last moments of life, Rose Rolyoke recounts and reflects on her past, coming to terms with her failures and seeking validation of her relationships with her parents, her husband, her best friend Ruby, and – most of all – her daughter. Born to an emotionally-troubled mother and an alcoholic father left scarred by his service in World War I, Rose suffers a mostly unhappy childhood, and it all just sort of goes downhill from there. (It really goes downhill – so if you’re looking for a lighter read, grab something else, NOW. But bear in mind that there are a few really sparkling laugh-out-loud moments, plus you’d be missing one heck of a good story…). Grasping at scraps of happiness, Rose lives nearly ninety years wondering if she was truly ever loved, and she sees reflections of herself in her daughter Harriet, who struggles with her own relationship issues.
This is no straightforward narrative with a linear chronology – no, Rose has dementia, and her story is told with all the lapses in time, struggles with meaning (and, at times, words), and skewed interpretations that her mind permits. While this may put the reader off at first glance, Scrimger’s incredible mastery of form ensures that it all stays together and works on every level – it’s actually very easy to follow the jumps, and it definitely makes for an interesting style. The scenes are solidly unified by Rose’s casual conversation with God, who lingers at her bedside and knows everything about her that there is to know (which is good, because sometimes Rose falters). This is a beautifully told story that will break your heart.