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Book Review: Marigold and Rose by Louise Glück

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By Simon Demetriou

Since I began reviewing for The Cyprus Mail, a clear and joyous pattern has emerged: get your hands on the debut novel of a great poet, and you’re in for a treat. (Which is to say, if you’ve not read The Baudelaire Fractal or On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, then you need to get on that.) So, it is no surprise that Louise Glück’s first prose fiction, Marigold and Rose, is a slim, sparkling triumph of a book.

The book is written from the perspective of twin babies Marigold and Rose, of whom Marigold remarks, ‘I am the brain and Rose is the heart. Or was it the other way?’ Glück’s magic is that in a book of no more than 55 pages she manages to pack in so much tenderness and wisdom that a reader cannot help but be left in wonder. And all this despite the fact that, really, nothing happens. Indeed, Marigold is writing a book – ‘That she couldn’t read was an impediment’ – based on the twins’ lives. We are told that ‘the book was very slow because the twins didn’t do anything’, and yet this poetic meditation feels anything but slow.

The reason is that the babies’ inner lives are so teeming with profound innocence. We are led to reflect on bereavement, which the twins learn ‘might be a significant problem with grandmothers’; to consider social norms in which ‘people who got paid contributed and people who didn’t… were no help at all. The twin saw right through this’; and to question the line between truth and fiction, for when Rose thinks that ‘You should only tell a true story. It is true, Marigold thought; it just isn’t real.’ We even get an exploration of the problem of other minds, when we are told that ‘Marigold could hear her own thoughts without any trouble, but she heard nothing from Rose’s head, not even when their heads were close. Maybe because of the hair, she thought.’

From the preceding example, we see Glück’s ability to weave philosophy with childish materialism, and in so doing create the poignant humour that runs throughout the entire novel. This moving simplicity, which is so difficult to achieve, is redolent of the poet’s power to condense concept and image into something original and resonant. The great achievement of this tiny text is that it is so easy to read and so hard to forget. You know what you should do.

 

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