I bought The Rose Guardian after reading the opening at the end of in Dreams of the Moon.
it was riveting. Intriguing, family tensions at the funerals of the main character’s mother. I had to know more! I bought the book and waited until I had finished some projects before starting to read the Rose Guardian.
In a vastly populated publishing landscape, many excellent writers are often overlooked. Lorina Stephens is CanadaLit’s best kept secret.
Her spellbinding prose kept me guessing as I dove headfirst into the psychological woes of an aging artist who deals with her estranged mother’s passing and the roses business. And as Violet discovers her mother’s journals and secrets, she is visited in her Manitoulin home by a strange little girl who shows an uncanny talent in drawing. Who is she?
The narrative flows between the harried mother’s journals dating from WWII, the present day-to-day artist’s life, with many details about the craft that visual painters among us will appreciate (I have done watercolors, but never this elaborate!) and a little unnamed girl who grows in her Ma’s shadow and gives souls to every being in her reach, and talks to a majestic Roses bush in the garden, the titular Rose Guardian.
The unnamed girl looks with hope at the clouds building up, seeing boats, waiting for them to take her to a place where nobody hurts. The mother, who has endured abuse, resents her solitude (“Find a successful woman and you’ll find a lonely one. Where a man shows leadership and decisiveness, in a woman it’s called arrogance and bitchiness.”) The watercolor artist composes with the ghost-child visitations, an estranged husband who still loves her, a possible interview by a major media outlet (oh, the weight of appearances!) and the cruel self-interrogations of her worth as an artist, another thing this reader related to.
The three mysteries entwined more and more in the novel, we get to understand the mother’s tribulations, the mysterious ghost-child, and the unnamed girl who has to grow up… and abandon her golden dreams.
The prose is rich and delicate like a cloud lining:
“Silence drifted in the house, comfortable, eloquent.”
“I was struck by the aromas of my trade: the fungus smell of watercolour papers, the citrus-sharp pungency of oils and turps and glazing mediums.”
“Only now did I understand that, accept it, recognize the shift on the political map of my life.”
The story is about the complexity of a human soul, the relations, and the mental prison we build for ourselves, against an outside world full of hurt. It is about art, too, about the female artist condition (oh, the weight of appearance, bis!) about too-tight clothes (oh, the passage about the torturing shoes) and a host of concerns, and friendship, resilience, acceptance. Life is imperfect, but we have to cope with, and eventually transcend the limits, to find closure.
I loved this book for this gradual poetic construction, of shades and lights in the characters with an artist’s brush, and for the exaltation of the beauty of Manitoulin Island (which I hope to discover for myself soon.) As I closed the book, I shared this desire of the soul to fly out towards an horizon crowned with golden clouds.
Thanks, Michèle. I am quite astonished.
The Rose Guardian is available in trade paperback and ebook through this website, and your favourite online bookseller. Hopefully this autumn I’ll have it available in audiobook as well.