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(3.5 Stars) The Cupboard.
on 10 March 2015
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.