Sometimes this blog makes me do weird things. Like vowing to read every book by a certain writer. Of course, it took me a while, since I bought Best Love Rosie at the Paris Salon du Livre in 2009 and it had been lingering at the bottom of my TBR pile ever since.
Still, I’m persistent, so now I can say that I’ve read all her novels (she was a journalist so probably no-one can claim to have read all she’s ever written).
I can be sure because she died of cancer in 2008 just before this book was published by a French publisher I love, Sabine Wespieser. Wespieser has published the Story of Chicago May and all her titles in French, and has published Best Love Rosie even before it was available in English (how weird is that?).
Anyone who’s read O’Faolain knows that her writing is intensively personal, emotional and honest, even the novels, and the result is that I couldn’t stop thinking of her writing it during her terminal illness. Surely she was aware that it was her last chance to send out a message to readers. Indeed, this story talks about ageing women who try hard to come to terms with their lives, the mistakes of their past, their age, the wasted opportunities or those that they still can grasp. The shadows of death make the book wise and a bit nostalgic, but not sad or afraid.
I often forgot that Rosie wasn’t supposed to be Nuala. Rosie spent many years abroad, turning her back on Ireland and an unhappy childhood, working and travelling and having affairs and adventures. She refused to marry and lead an ordinary life, but the price was also high for her. She reluctantly (yet dutifully) returns to Ireland to take care of her ageing aunt Min, a frail old woman in her 70s who has raised her but who is now drunk and boring and trapped in her village and routine.
But then, as Rosie seizes the opportunity to visit an old friend in New York and see if he can help her with a writing gig, something unexpected happens. Min decides to go to New York too, and when Rosie’s American break comes to an end, Min refuses to go home and prefers to take new adventures there. Rosie, now bound in her hometown, starts to see things differently too.
The bottom line is that it’s never too late to start afresh, despite difficulties and failings. It’s not all Polly-annaish because O’Faolain never shirk from pain and harsh honesty, especially on loneliness and lovelessness. It is poignant novel, alternating between sadness and hope.