"From the stifling fifties, through the swinging sixties, this joyous Jean Rhys-esque novel explores a young woman’s tottering coming-of-age from obsessive first love to freedom."
Set in the fifties and sixties, Rose Tremain's Absolutely and Forever is a captivating coming-of-age character study of manic first love and finding the courage to forge personal freedom.
With its authentic, endearing narrative voice tingling with wit, this remarkable short novel boasts a precision and particular kind of emotional awareness that put me in mind of Jean Rhys’ writing, and the fiction of Simone de Beauvoir, though it’s more comic than the work of both these doyennes of superbly succinct fiction. Directly affecting through its clever clarity, I absolutely adored Absolutely and Forever and, in all likelihood, that will remain the case absolutely and forever.
From the opening pages, Tremain conjures the urgency of Marianne’s first love through her giddily extreme emotional responses, and matter-of-fact utterance of wild romantic imaginings: “soon enough I’m going to marry Simon and travel the world with him and eat dates in Arabia and snorkel among exotic fish along the Great Barrier Reef.”
Marianne’s piercing self-awareness is also fabulously authentic, and funny with it: “The narcissism of a person in love knows no bounds. I began to see myself as Simon would see me, which is to say, absolutely beautiful.”
But when Simon fails the Oxford entrance exam and leaves England to study in Paris, Marianne is left feeling “quite ill with a longing to be there beside him.” When a letter restores her with hope that she’ll become Mrs Simon Hurst, with a future that involves the likes of “riding a camel in Egypt, floating along in a gondola in Venice, driving through the Grand Canyon in a open-topped Cadillac”, a teacher warns her to “try to grow up and start thinking for yourself”.
Marianne’s journey to growing up and thinking for herself sees her stumble through a secretarial course and try to be “like one of the skinny King’s Road girls”. But in the face of big blows and tragedy, Marianne moves to some maturity (“We just have to go on and see what happens”) while wearing her wit wonderfully (“I’m just in the process of turning into my mother”), and beginning to make “decisions about how my story would go on.”
I absolutely adored my time in Marianne’s company — what a wonder Rose Tremain has created in Absolutely and Forever.
|Modern and Contemporary Fiction