on 8 July 2002
The final book in Rebecca West's 'Saga of a Century', proves to be as captivating a read as its predecessors, 'The Fountain Overflows' and 'This Real Night'. Rebecca West's prose is as beautifully wrought, and her characters as vividly drawn and sympathetic as ever, as she continues to explore the relationship of the Aubrey sisters, Rose and Mary, towards each other, to the world of art and music and to their colourful extended family. Much of the novel is concerned with Rose's fraught acceptance of the world of sex and sexuality, exacerbated by the inexplicable mariage of her cousin Rosamund, formerly the Aubrey sisters' spiritual and moral touchstone, to a man they find both morally and physically repugnant. This seeming reversal of Rosamund's values plunges Rose, particularly, into a spiritual crisis that takes most of the novel to resolve.
One of the chief delights of Cousin Rosamund lies in the brilliantly drawn cast of characters who serve as the sisters' link to both their childhood and to the world outside art and music . Queenie, the formerly murderous mother of their friend Nanci, Oswald, the abraisive, socially inept schoolteacher whom Nanci finds marital bliss with, the gauche and gaudy bartender Lily, the ageing, mediocre music-teacher, Miss Beevor ; all are portrayed unflinchingly as flawed, yet all find redemption in their relationships with others and point the way to happiness for Rose in their willingness to love and be loved by others.
There is only one disappointment in this series, and that is that the final book was never written. The afterword of this edition contains West's synopsis of the sequel to Cousin Rosamund, and ties up all the plot strands that are left hanging, unresolved at the end of this novel. It is truly a shame that the author never completed a publishable draft of this segment before her death, as the resolution that is outlined here is so absolutely devastating, and the plot threads and themes that have been set up from the first books so neatly tied up , that it would only have added to the series' already masterpiece status.
Third in West's 'Cousin Rosamund' series, for me this novel didn't quite reach the heights of the previous two. It was published posthumously and is unfinished. Nonetheless it takes us to a satisfactory closing point in the life of narrator Rose.
With the absence of the pivotal characters of the previous two works, the book echoes the emptiness of Rose's life. She and Mary are now world renowned concert pianists, attending parties, mixing with millionaires and bright young things, yet their magical childhood seems to hold them back from making any new friends:
'I hate all people except Mary who is more or less me, and the people here...I am so lonely! I am only happy here.'
It is in the world of the 'Dog and Duck' public house with Uncle Len and family that Rose finds calm. The beautiful writing brings these scenes vividly to life:
'The grass was furred with moonlight and on it each object drew a picture of itself in soft and sooty shadow, but the ground was hard as steel under our feet, and the air was minerally hard with intense cold.'
West retains her occasional flashes of humour such as in Nancy's earnest young husband Oswald, a scientist:
' "All that", she said, "just for asking how the world began".
"For mercy's sake, Lil", exclaimed Uncle Len, "Is that what started him off? You ought to have a better headpiece on you. That's not a question that would bring a short answer out of Os."..."Has he finished?"
"No Milly took over listening when I left."
You definitely have to read this if you've read the two prequels. The afterword in this novel gives an outline of West's planned 'plotline' for a fourth in the series which was sadly never undertaken.