Magazine article The Spectator

Come Fly with Me

Magazine article The Spectator

Come Fly with Me

Article excerpt

THE WAY I FOUND HER by Rose Tremain

Sinclair-Stevenson, 15.99, pp. 358 A Amongst those accomplishments on which Rose Tremain's reputation is founded - lucid and beautiful prose, sure-footed navigation of structural complexities comes an uncanny ability, most notably demonstrated in Restoration, to inhabit the minds and bodies of her characters. Here she performs a similar feat of ventriloquism in the shape of 13-year-old Lewis Little, `Third Year Chess Champion of Beckett Bridges School' and narrator of The Way I Found Her. Lewis and his mother Alice have left their Devon home to spend the summer in Paris, with Valentina Gavril, a Russian writer of best-selling mediaeval romances. For Lewis it becomes a summer of initiation in which the loss of his virginity is but a footnote.

Alice, cool, inscrutable, secretive, a woman defined by her beauty, is Valentina's translator. Valentina is a `crazy, romantic, gigantic Russian', all bejewelled and perfumed plumpness, to whom Lewis looses his heart. While Alice and Valentina work, Lewis explores the streets of Paris with Sergei, Valentina's dog, a lover of strawberry pastries and an habitue of the beauty salon. Being out with Sergei is `like you're Arthur Miller and Sergei's Marilyn Monroe'.

'I am a child for about two point three minutes in every 24 hours. But on certain days I'm 17', so Lewis informs Alice. He can indeed seem possessed of a sagacity beyond his years. Of the reported efforts by his father, left in Devon, to build a hut for Alice (which, as Lewis knows, she will scorn) he comments, `that kind of childish happiness is always doomed'. His fantasies about Valentina are surprisingly sophisticated. Yet he retains an attachment to his action man; with the painstaking pedantry of the clever schoolboy he fills his notebooks with facts and theories. Lewis is both child and adult and Tremain catches his elusive sliding between the two quite brilliantly. His passion for Orangina does not contradict that for Valentina. They coexist.

The Way I Found Her, threaded as it is with images of birds, of kites, can be read as a novel about flight, or rather the desire for flight, for transcendence. Much of it is played out amid a landscape of roof-tops. It is on the roof of Valentina's apartment that Lewis meets Didier, a bespectacled, existentialist roofer (i. …

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