Depressed Rosa, homeless, jobless and at the mercy of her friends, muses on the meaning of life in a darkly comic fiction debut.
Kavenna (The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule, 2006) sets her heroine on a slippery path. Rosa’s mother’s death has triggered some kind of breakdown and she has begun to withdraw from the kind of life everyone else is busy leading, focused on mortgages, children and possessions. She has walked away from a good job as a journalist and abandoned the flat she was sharing with her boyfriend, to move in with a series of friends until they ask her to leave. Sinking into debt, she knows she should find work but doesn’t seem able to take the applications seriously, distracted as she is by her detached, mortality-clouded perspective. While the street life of London streams around her, she focuses on minutiae like sounds, the weather and why the word TEMP keeps appearing as graffiti. She composes crazed letters and makes nonsensical lists: “Vacuum the living room”; “Read widely in world religions”; “Stop writing these lists that waste your time.” Inside her head, a sane-seeming and erudite monologue considers philosophical questions, but her actions and emotions when visiting friends in the Lake District or going for an interview betray her fragility. Kavenna’s wit and quirky insights turn what might seem dreary and repetitive material into an oddly compelling and subversive disquisition on modern assumptions. Perhaps we are all only “drifting in darkness, fumbling around,” or so begins to suspect Rosa, newly aware that TEMP (for temperate) might be the future, as she fades from view on a train to Paris.
A horribly funny, surprisingly jaunty visit to the edge of the abyss.