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on 6 September 2011
This poignant subtle story is told chiefly from the points of view of two women recalling an incident in their girlhood from which neither of them ever recovered. The drowning of their schoolmate Rose has shaped both lives - but the cleverness of this book is that you don't know really where you are with them until quite far in, when the hint of a huge twist keeps you turning the pages at speed.
Eliza's job as a ceramic restorer serves as a beautiful metaphor for the fragility of life, and the impossibility of perfect recovery: everything, once broken, remains damaged within, no matter how carefully the flaw is hidden. The story is deftly told, with convincing dialogue, and Eliza's relationship with the dead girl's father is drawn with great subtlety and compassion. This is a great read - especially for someone who has felt regret about the past, and opportunities missed. Rose's father says at one point to the guilt-racked Eliza, "be a candle, not a black hole."
This book is a candle, and I feel the better for having read it.
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on 23 February 2012
I loved this book. It is written from the point of view of two women; Eliza, a ceramics restorer in present day London, and Sandra, a teenage girl trying to fit in at boarding school, back in Eliza's school days. The two women are linked by Rose, a young girl who drowned. The story switches between the two different points of view and quite often in books this annoys me, there's usually one story that I rush through to get to the more interesting one. But in this book it works really well.
This book is really easy to read in that the writing alone conveys the complexities of the different stories, it doesn't have to try too hard. On the surface it's a simple story but underneath it's full of brilliantly subtle observations that had me nodding my head, and is full of dark humour. There are bits of Eliza that everyone can identify with, she's certainly not a flawless main character. (I loved the part where Eliza is persuaded to go along to a support group for people with 'toxic guilt').
There are moments where Marika Cobbold describes perfectly the awkwardness of certain relationships and situations; the conversations between Eliza and her step-sister are both uncomfortable and funny at the same time. She also captures the feelings of isolation at school really well, that need to fit in while at the same time wanting to be different. I felt sorry for Sandra/Cassandra yet at the same time found her irritating.
I loved how it switched between London and Sweden and I also learnt a little bit about ceramics restoration. Any book that teaches you something, and makes you think, is definitely worth a read.
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on 17 August 2011
I have read all of Marika Cobbold's books and think this has to be one of my favourites. Unlike one of the other reviewers I really loved Aphrodite's Workshop (MC is a really funny writer and in Aphrodite she lets her sense of humour run riot!) however Drowning Rose, whilst still full of very witty, funny thoughts and scenes (Archie the doom filled neighbour is just brilliant!), is a rather melancholy and dark book (rather like Shooting Butterflies). It was gripping and page turning. Her books are always beautifully easy to read (I mean that as a compliment, she writes without pretension) and yet complex, cleverly constructed and full of hilarious and sometimes very sad insights. I was really interested by the descriptions of Eliza's work and behind the scenes at the V&A (one of my favourite museums) and loved the scenes from Eliza and the fabulously awful and tragic Cassandra's youth at boarding school. She was spot on about boarding school life but also the hell (and bliss!) that is being a teenager. Her ability to completely inhabit her characters, however different, is something that Marika Cobbold is excellent at. As always she excels at children and the elderly, as an author she really seems to understand the outsider (a bit like Anne Tyler, though sometimes Anne Tyler's outsiders are too outside!) which is what makes her books so special. Anyway this is a beautiful and richly written novel. Gorgeous cover by the way!
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on 29 October 2011
Drowning Rose I first read Marika Cobbold a while back when a publisher recommended her to me. I had yet to care for someone with dementia. When I had come through that life experience, `Guppies for Tea' became all the more poignant for me. Simply, Marika Cobbold writes real people, beautifully, and always balanced with just the right amount of humour. People you can identify with and recognise your own strengths and weaknesses through. I always feel as if I'm settling down with a huge box of chocolates when I pick up one of MC's books. But unlike Forrest Gump's Momma, I do know what I'm going to get: a hugely satisfying read. I wasn't disappointed when I read Drowning Rose - in one sitting. I was delighted by the switch of point of view from (present) forty-one year old Eliza, to Eliza at sixteen, the story narrated then by new girl to the school, Sandra/Cassandra, who is desperate to be seen as one of the inner circle of a group of more-privileged peers. A rather unique twist in the telling, then, and not easy to do, but Marika Cobbold pulled it off without a hitch. I'd rather not throw in spoilers - the book has to be read, so I'll just say that the story looks at the cracks beneath the veneer (Eliza's job as a ceramic restorer being a perfect metaphor). It examines how a traumatic event can shape one's future, the tragedy, which is the drowning of Rose, rippling out to touch and transform the lives of all those who loved and lost her. It looks at guilt, at grief, the burdens we carry and the impact on future relationships. It looks at `what ifs' and whys. I loved it, truly. Anyone aspiring to write should read it. Anyone who loves reading - you are in for a real treat!
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As soon as I finished the first novel I'd read by Marika Cobbold, Drowning Rose, I downloaded this book. I loved this first read so much I couldn't wait to devour more of Mirika Cobbold's wonderful prose.

I love the cover and the title of this book - Purveyor of Enchantment - just wonderful. So I sat down expecting a pure enjoyment experience....... and thought what's going on here. It's started ok but I just wasn't sure where it was going, but continued on not really taking to the story immediately.

However, around the fourth chapter it gained momentum and all the wit, humour, and beautifully descriptive writing all came flooding back keeping me completely hooked and chuckling through this novel, finishing it in a couple of days.

It's a beautiful love story and I took to Clementine early on. She's big and clumsy, neurotic, a gentle generous soul, put upon, particularly by her half sister Orphelia, 'the whole child' and oooh such a meanie and selfish character. I didn't like her from the beginning but boy oh boy by the end of the book!

Clementine, privileged, with an inheritance from her late father inherits her aunt Elvira's house in an enchanting village and takes Orphelia in as her house mate (very foolish decision in my humble opinion, but of course helps the storyline!). With a lovely 'old boy' for a neighbour Mr. Scott. She befriends him and falls completely in love with his son Nathaniel who in turn falls in love with her.

Twists and turns begin, where I felt poor Clementine was badly let down by two special people in her life but she pulls through it with an imaginative set programme of events she puts in place to turn her life around.

I loved it and recommend it, nearly as highly as Drowning Rose. This won't be the last Marika Cobbold book I read.
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Music teacher Clementine, an attractive divorcee in her mid-thirties, standing five feet eleven inches and a bit in her stockinged feet (the 'bit', we are told, is most probably an inch) has inherited a country cottage from her Great Aunt Elvira, which she moves into with her beautiful half-sister, the dainty and petite Ophelia. At twenty-seven years old and looking like an adorable waif with her blonde urchin cut, Ophelia makes Clementine feel huge and clumsy on a bad day, and like a large mermaid on a good day. But Clementine does not just have to cope with the worrying presence of a beautiful younger sister, she also has to cope with the constant dread of anything and everything going wrong for her. The rising crime rate worries her (she sleeps with a condom under her pillow in case a rapist breaks into her home and, for lack of a condom, has unprotected sex with her and gives her AIDS); she worries about germs and diseases (using a public lavatory is a nightmare for her); she worries about being trapped by fire in an upstairs room (and in consequence makes herself a rope ladder - which collapses when she attempts to use it); in fact there is very little that Clementine does not worry about. The only thing she's not frightened of, we learn, is Doris Day. "You know Clementine" Ophelia tells her "I reckon you believe that by fretting away like this, you'll somehow render yourself immune to all the scary things out there [but] I believe the opposite is true." And smug little Ophelia is soon proved (mostly) correct for when Clementine falls in love with her next-door-neighbour, the very attractive Nathaniel Scott, and destroys her nascent happiness with constant worrying, she realises she will have to get to grips with her problem before she totally ruins her own life. But can Clementine really make the necessary changes before it is too late?

Witty, pacy and rather amusing in places, I found Marika Cobbold's 'The Purveyor of Enchantment' an entertaining read on the surface - in fact, I thought the first few chapters were laugh-aloud funny in many places, until I realised that poor Clementine was not just an eccentric worrier but was teetering on the edge of suffering from full-blown OCD. And the more I read, the more I felt myself becoming uncomfortable - although once Clementine had made the decision to get a grip of herself, her method of working through her problem had its more positive and entertaining moments. That said, I found this a difficult novel to rate fairly because although it had its witty and amusing side to it, Clementine's obsessive behaviour was not funny when you consider how debilitating her condition was, and even though she made attempts to quickly turn her situation around, I wasn't so sure that she would have been able to do this as easily as the author made it seem. I also found some of the characters and the situations they found themselves in a little unconvincing - but it's difficult to explain why without revealing spoilers. In some ways, this story is a modern fairytale - where the reader is encouraged into wondering whether Clementine will actually get her Prince Charming - and if you do not take the story seriously then some of Clementine's dilemmas may well make you laugh and encourage you to cheer her on in her endeavours, but as I progressed my way through the book I found the combination of Clementine's extreme anxiety problems, Nathaniel's alcohol difficulties and the consequences of Clementine allowing herself to be bullied by her selfish younger sister, were uncomfortable subjects and prevented me from finding this an entirely enjoyable or satisfying read - or perhaps, after a difficult, hectic week, I am suffering from a sense of humour failure. I have read and enjoyed the author's: Shooting Butterflies and Frozen Music and there are good points to 'The Purveyor of Enchantment', but although this may be a witty and well-written novel, I don't think it's one I would revisit.

3 Stars.
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on 3 September 2011
This is the most exquisitely written story about fate, friendship and restoration. The balance between humour and poignancy is just perfect and I was pulled into each chapter by such well drawn characters, I could see and hear them from the very beginning. Ms Cobbold's description of an adolescent longing to fit in is painfully beautiful. A truly wonderful read.
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Oh I loved this book. I bought it early in January during the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' sale primarily for three reasons. I loved the cover! (teacup), substantially reduced price and it had been recommended by Trisha Ashley (author of a good book I'd just finished reading).

Somehow, with all my other book purchases this novel had lain untouched until now. Had I even suspected it would be half as good as it was I'd have read it immediately.

Well, where do I start. Plots in the form of chapters, primarily told from the view point of Eliza now in her early forties and Sandra/Cassandra, more a bit part player relaying her school day stories featuring Eliza, Rose, Portia and Julian. In between, a few chapters are given over to an unknown character. As well as these there are a whole plethora of wonderful characters, none neglected all superbly constructed, weaving the fabric of the story together.

What a treat, although a sad subject underpins the whole plot, Marika Cobbold's wit and humour, not to mention her beautifully descriptive writing had me completely hooked and chuckling the whole way through this novel......

"She didn't regret having given them a fright, she said. But she did mind having driven over a very handy thermos flask. Apparently it matched their cold-box. 'The trouble is' Ruth had told me, 'that they don't sell them any more, not even at John Lewis'........" - PURE GENIUS!!

I thought I had a handle on this plot but I wasn't bothered because I was enjoying it so much but then a twist came along (some may argue glaringly obvious) and I had a 'Eureka' moment.

I think it's obvious I absolutely loved this novel and the author, this being the first of her books I've read, but it will definitely not be my last. Highly recommended.
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on 15 August 2011
I hadn't got time to read this book, I was saving as a treat. I only picked it up yesterday evening to glance at the first few lines... Then of course I was hooked and couldn't put it down, staying up late into the night to finish it. Another quirkily brilliant read from Marika - all her books are very different, but all witty, poignant and funny - and this one didn't disappoint. Memorable characters, admirable scene-setting and atmosphere..wonderful.
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on 23 February 2012
Drowning Rose is one of the most beautifully written books I have read for a very long time. The story is centred on Eliza, a ceramics restorer, who tries to restore everything except for her own shattered life. She blamed herself for the death of her friend, Rose, at boarding school and her life has since been blighted by guilt. The themes of waste and reparation are present on many levels throughout the book. The narrative, provided by Eliza, is interspersed with accounts by Sandra/Cassandra, of their time at school. Sandra, the outsider, gradually feeds us with more information about what actually happened at school, and shows us different facets of the lives and characters of Eliza and her friends. The background detail is fascinating, whether it be the world of ceramics restoration or boarding school life. There are beautifully described scenes set in Sweden, where Eliza visits her Godfather who is also Rose's father, with enchanting detail of Swedish customs. These are charming, but often tinged with a touch of darkness. This darkness is a thread running throughout the book, laced between the lighter moments and showing up in the characters and their imperfect relationships. It is offset by the feather-light language and the wonderfully dark humour present throughout. The imagery is finely drawn and highly original, making you linger on the ideas it is representing. The reader is drawn in by Eliza's fragility and her appealing character, which is contrasted with Sandra's self-centred, snobbish personality. The delicacy and originality of the writing, the off-the-wall humour and the depiction of the beautifully realistic flawed characters had me glued to this book, and, on finishing it, I felt compelled to immediately start reading it all over again.
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