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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 February 2004
Like a mountain goat, Tremain amazes by her agility and sure footedness, negotiating high peaks, impervious to the sheer and deadly drops beneath! In this book, the 'drops' or 'traps' which a lesser writer would have fallen into, she effortlessly avoids.
Her central character, whose life and writing we explore through conversations with an male American journalist, is a very elderly English woman, who has lived through most of the 20th century. Erica is a wonderful, fierce, tender, fragile, passionate and engaged woman. She has breathed in, engaged with, inspired, and been inspired by life. She, as Ralph, the journalist, discovers, lives with and through love - not only sexual love, but an ability to live from the heart and to really live a life in the moment. This means her life is large, joyous, terrifying, fraught with periods of madness, despair, doubt, pleasure etc etc.
Inevitably, in describing such a character, there is the danger for the writer, either of overblown and fulsome prose, or of failing to fully describe, becuase of a fear of being overblown. Tremain avoids these pitfalls - Erica is seen through the distancing device of the youngish, male American - and it is through his perpective on her and her writing, that we discover her. It is also through her effect on him which causes him to look at his own more narrow, mundane and disengaged life, that Tremain makes us look at our own lives - do we live 'Ralph' or do we live 'Erica'.
Not only does Tremain 'tell stories' and explore characters beautifully - she is also a fine, fine, poetic writer - without ever ramming the beauty of her writing down your throat - there is no self-indulgence in her writing, just every now and again, a phrase or an image will stop you in your tracks and remind you how crafted her writing style, her choice of words, her structure is.
She is at the same time an 'easy' read - and a read of depth.
I've never read a book of hers which has not delighted me - they are all VERY different in subject matter - she is a writer with many, many books inside her, not one book endlessly re-presented.
Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.
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on 12 November 2000
It took a few attempts to engage with "The Cupboard," but I was soon hooked and I read the majority of the book in a day. I simply loved the main character for her wit, courage, wisdom and eccentricity, which is, when all said and done a credit to Rose Tremain, who as usual has written a character with profound depth and credibility. This book made me change my outlook on life, which sounds trite, but when faced with the challenges of life as a young woman, I think about the courage the protagonist had in "The Cupboard" and I am revived!
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on 14 March 2000
After reading this novel, I felt as if I had actually met Erica March, the vodka-drinking 87-year-old. Much of the novel consists of her conversations with an American journalist, who hopes that by understanding Erica's life and loves he will be better equipped to deal with his own. With the major historical events of the twentieth century as the backdrop, the novel leads up to an ending that is both happy and sad.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 30 August 2013
Ralph Pears is 35 years old, an American reporter who is in London to interview and get notes on the life of Erica March, who at 87 years old may not have a lot of time or sense left to her. So Ralph's boss sends him to see if Erica is worth pursuing as a subject. Ralph feels that his own life has been valueless so far, and finds himself seeking unasked-for help from Erica to make some sense of his own time. As Erica narrates her life to him, and tells of her childhood, her work with the suffragettes, and her writing, the cupboard that was her mother's is one thing that is always part of her world.

While the story itself is interesting, and Erica's life is certainly full as she mirrors for much of it the wonders and horrors of the twentieth century, I found both her and Ralph to be characters that I found it hard to empathise with. They both seemed rather inexplicable to me in their views on the world and life. And if the extracts given from the `novels' of Erica March are indicative of her writing, I can't imagine how she would ever have been published in the first place. I'm afraid Erica March and Ralph Pears remain an enigma to me.
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It pains me to say that I did not enjoy this work . It pains me as up until now I delighted in anything written by Rose Tremain [ See my reviews on The Swimming Pool Season, Sacred Country etc. etc.]. Because it was written by Ms. Tremain I persevered page after heavy going page to an unsatisfactory end. The premise is good: young American journalist, Ralph in the present time interviews over many meetings the ageng Erica March an important literary figure from the early to mid parts of last century. During the course of their meetings her unusual life unfolds against the background of world events.
My problem with this book was the mixing of Ralph's rather uninteresting life with Erica's literary and personal lives, the dialogue between them and the extracts from Erica's novels which were to say the least totally weird and beggared my comprehension. For those with a much higher brow than mine this may be a masterpiece, but for me it is a great disappointment. Sorry Rose Tremain.
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Eighty-seven-year-old Erica March, once a well-regarded writer of unusual, allegorical novels, is nearing the end of her long and full life. Not wanting death to take her unawares, Erica decides exactly how she wants her life to end, and before it does, she agrees to be interviewed by Ralph Pears, a thirty-five-year-old American journalist, who has arrived in London keen to begin recording the story of her life. As Ralph spends time with Erica in her comfortable sitting room, lit by her prized Tiffany lamp, we learn of her childhood years which she spent in Suffolk with Gully, a foundling boy informally adopted by her father; of Erica's mother's death from being crushed by a bull; of Erica's imaginary friend, Claustrophobia, whose 'presence' helped Erica to cope with the death of her mother; and of Erica's Uncle Chadwick, a Wildean-type playwright with his flowing locks, his silk dressing gowns and his penchant for unreliable young men. In addition we learn about the time Erica spent living in London with Chadwick when she was a young adult, of her friendship with suffragette Emily Davison and of her involvement with the women's suffrage movement; we also learn of Erica's love affairs and of her deep and lasting love for a French man, Gerard, with whom she lived for years in Paris and "lay curled up in Gerard's life like a piece of sand inside a mollusc." Of course there is a lot more to Erica's long life than I have revealed here, but I shall leave the remainder for potential readers of this novel to discover for themselves.

As with all of Rose Tremain's novels, this is a beautifully written and imaginatively created story and the main protagonist, Erica March, is an interesting and sympathetic character, about whose life I enjoyed reading. However, as the reader learns about Erica's life in a rather piecemeal fashion as she dips in and out of her memories, I felt that I didn't really become as well-acquainted with her as I would have liked and, as a supporting character, Ralph didn't really come to life, and I found it difficult to become involved in the parts of the story that focused on him. Also, I would have liked to have learnt more about some of the interesting people that Erica met whilst living in Paris. All of that said however, although I did not enjoy this novel quite as much as I have some of Rose Tremain's other excellent novels (such as: Restoration;Merivel;The Way I Found Her; and The Swimming Pool Season) 'The Cupboard' was still an entertaining and interesting read, and as it is yet another of the many books I have had languishing on my bookcases and somehow never got around to reading, I am really glad that I have finally taken the time out to read it.

3.5 Stars.
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on 22 September 2013
Have just finished this book and thrown it across the room. I've read about three other books by Rosé Tremain and enjoyed them all, this book however is a serious disappointment. If I hadn't read any of her previous books I would not have continued with this one. So disappointing. And what's with the ending, just a nothing ending! And such a promising first page too. Disappointed.
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on 15 January 2011
Will I ever read a Rose Tremain book that does not deserve five stars (and much more)? I hope not. Tremain surprises every time by delivering characters and lives so real they are almost unbearable. It's like standing under an ugly acrid orange light - nothing's hidden. Anyway, this book made me unhappy and depressed at times, but so do the best books. I like my realism gritty and I like it Tremain-style (with a little hope in there too). If there's anything to grumble about it's the ending. Ralf's windowsill herbs as a metaphor fell a wee bit flat.
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on 27 February 2013
I have really enjoyed three of Rose Tremain's books....Restoration, Merivel and The Road Home. Rose Tremain is a wonderfully imaginative writer, and it was a great disappointment to me reading The Cupboard. The characters are uninteresting, and the story boring. I think it is sad that a writer of Rose Tremain's calibre could write a book such as this.
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on 15 September 2011
So disappointed with this book as Tremain is one of my favourite authors. I really couldn't get into this book at all - ploughed through it though. Perhaps I didn't care for the characters but it is well written.
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