Book Review: Love and Death in the War of the Roses ; the Rose Grower by Michelle De Kretser Chatto Pounds 10

Article excerpt

The Rose Grower is a meditative tale of unrequited love and changing identity set against a backdrop of the first five years of the French Revolution as it progresses from scattered disturbance to the storming of the Bastille and full-scale totalitarian regime. In focusing her attention on one particular family of impoverished aristocratic stock, the Saint- Pierres of Montsignac, Gascony, Michelle de Kretser shows an acute understanding of the way in which the nobility viewed the sudden but systematic eradication of their entire privileged existence with a mixture of naive complacency and disbelief. As the obnoxious Hubert assures his wife Claire: "None of this will last, you'll see. There'll be war in a couple of months, the Austrians won't keep dragging their feet." The ambiguous political status of the Saint-Pierre family also allows de Kretser to explore the developing factionalism within its ranks and within those of its associates: Stephen, the louche, self-regarding American artist, who falls out of a hot-air balloon and into the adulterous arms of Claire, Saint-Pierre's eldest daughter; or Joseph Morel, the working-class doctor whose loyalty to the Patriots is undermined by his knowledge of their deep-seated corruption, and by his sympathy for the aristocratic families struggling to adjust to their newly degraded status. De Kretser's skill is in charting the course of idealism gone sour: the closing of churches; mass executions and massacres of those accused of "crimes against the nation"; bureaucratic complicity and a climate of fear in which it becomes treasonable to speak one's mind. …