BPS review, The Road Home by Rose Tremain ( April 2022)
BPS Book review of The Road Home, by Rose Tremain
Sometimes it takes me a week to get the summary of our bookish thoughts down on paper… so whilst it hangs over me on my ‘to do’ list, somewhere in my subconscious the thoughts are rumbling around to make some coherent conclusions.
This book in particular has made me think a lot, about how book tastes change through the decades and how writers really have to produce work that aligns with the current zeitgeist.
We had this discussion first when reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, a novel based on the true experiences of young boys in a Florida reform school. Whitehead had no personal experience of this, but his research was detailed enough to make an authentic version. We agreed that you can’t limit a writer, or any artist, to create work only based on lived and personal experience. Nonetheless, it seems that readers are now more critical of what is served up to them in the name of fiction.
Rose Tremain, on the other hand, seems more relaxed about authenticity, shall we say. Her vague ‘Eastern European’ setting, the stereotypical Indian woman, Irish man and ex-Communist country friend are simplistic versions of reality. And, as such, she received a fair criticism from our readers for creating more of a fairytale than a reality novel.
But this book was written way back in 2008 - and even then she wasn’t young. Are we just a more demanding audience now? Is our level of global knowledge creating a more worldly audience where a half-hearted drama just isn't going to cut it anymore?
She also included one particular aggressive sexual scene between Lev and Sophie which set a lot of teeth on edge, particularly amongst the younger readers - there was a sense that she ‘allowed’ this episode to pass without much judgement or criticism and the 2022 reader is not prepared to accept that anymore.
Having said all that … the book did score well for enjoyment and page turning appeal. It was an even split of audience ratings: half of us gave it 4/5 and above, and the other half 3/5 or less! So what were the positives?!
It’s an engrossing read, a sense of ‘what’s going to happen to Lev, and Lydia?’ which kept us reading in a ‘block out the everyday’ pleasurable way. Tremain has an ability to write a scene with visual immediacy and depth, and sketch interesting detail into her characters. Her incidental moments, such as the theatre piece, and art discussions, add some contemporary context for discussion, and touches of humour with Rudi and his ‘Tchevi’ lighten the drama. She explores, albeit in an ‘immigrant lite’ way, the personal bravery of setting off alone for a better standard of living, of finding your feet in a strange country, and from that explores one’s understanding of home, family and success. Our recent backdrop of what’s happening in Ukraine did add a poignancy to this drama.
Tremain has received the most positive reviews for her works of historical fiction, one can only assume that she has fully researched those historical periods closely. This book did however win the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2008 – a more forgiving judging panel in those days, perhaps?!