THE CUPBOARD by Rose Tremain

THE CUPBOARD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A disappointing third novel from the author of Sadler's Birthday and Letter to Sister Benedicta: this time--with the life history of an 87-year-old writer of surreal allegorical novels--Tremain's meditative approach is merely static and her gift for imagery slides into the preciously bizarre. Erica March sees an omen pointing to her own death in the arrival of floundering, youngish US interviewer Ralph Pear--to whom she reminisces at length. A woman for whom ""love sharpened her vision of everything she saw,"" Erica tells of her Sussex-farm childhood: the death of her mother (gored by a bull during meadow-sweet marital sex); the arrival of clay-born Gully, a Caliban with a twisted head; her imaginary friend ""Claustrophobia,"" who teaches her not to be afraid of mother's death-connected cupboard. She goes on to London--staying with Uncle Chadwick, a Wildean playwright (with ""the whitest legs I ever saw""), joining the suffragists to follow her first love: Emily Davison, soon the famed Suffragette suicide. Meanwhile, Erica's father weds rigid, scrubbed Eileen, who claims that ""God appeared to her in a tin of Belgian sardines."" And Erica, after turning down a marriage proposal (not for her ""the silent swinging udders of the field, chewing our cud while the bulls rampage""), finds passion in Paris with surrealist artist GÉrard--but gives up her own writing: ""I lay curled up in GÉrard's life like a piece of sand inside a mollusc. . . ."" GÉrard will be killed in Spain; writing will resurface; there's the war--and, during an eye operation, Erica's eye becomes ""global,"" seeing all. Tremain interleaves Erica's talky confessions with excerpts from her novels (in which criminal males commit crimes in nightmare, viscera-hung landscapes). Ralph, himself corroded by symbolic physical pain, catches a hint of hope after Erica's death. Yet the interview/memoir format remains terribly claustrophobic here, and the over-rich prose (""Imagination's eye wound his heart with protective threads; his heart was a pupa left on a white leaf, left to unravel its own extraordinary metamorphosis on the breast of a virgin"") is rather a strain. Too clever and showy by half.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's