Monday, 19 September 2011

Review: Roses by Leila Meacham

Spanning the twentieth century, Roses is the story of the powerful founding families of Howbutker, Texas, and how their histories remain intertwined over the span of three generations.
Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick fell in love, but because of their stubborn natures and Mary’s devotion to her family’s land, they unwisely never wed. Now they must deal with the deceit, secrets, and tragedies that surround them, and the poignant loss of what might have been—not only for themselves, but also for their family legacies.

Oh my gosh this book was just so beautiful. The storytelling was exquisite, the prose divine, and even when I wasn’t fussed on the characters they were still so brilliantly constructed that it made my heart ache for what they were going through.

So I’m a sucker for American small town stories where the action focuses on the founding families, and this was absolutely spot on. Whilst the action focuses for the most part on Mary and Percy, the repercussions fan out over four generations of the families – brilliantly interweaving the lives, the secrets and the betrayals that made this book so completely heart breaking at points.

One thing in particular that I loved was how it took its time. So many books these days, the action takes place over a few hours, or days – hell if we’re lucky then it stretches to weeks or even months. ‘Roses’ spans years. We watch as Mary grows up and into her legacy, right through until her passing. It’s an incredible feat for Meacham to span such a period of history with so many different characters, and make it work seamlessly. It’s wonderful to be able to revel in the little things, the little day to day moments that make up the grand tapestry of life in Howbutker for the founders.

Because the book starts at the end and takes us back through the events that led to this point there’s a cloud of inevitability that hangs across the whole story. Knowing where the story is going doesn’t detract from the enjoyment though, instead it heightens it, adding to the sense of crushing destiny that rules all of the characters and their choices.

Mary did irritate the hell out of me, and whilst I wanted to shake her for a good portion of the book, but it wasn’t that I didn’t like her, it was simply that she was so unbelievably stubborn. I wanted to shake her and hug her and cry with her when things got really bad. And they do.

The changing perspectives meant that the story stayed fresh and we were able to find out more than if we’d heard the entire tale from Mary. I did feel a little bit bereft when the perspective changed, but ultimately it was the best thing for the story.

I’m so glad that I did end up picking up ‘Roses’ after all this time. It’s one that I’ve almost bought on a number of occasions. It’s stunning – in its scope, the characters, the plot, everything. It was a brilliant read to immerse myself in and forget the world for a while. A stunning work that will stay with you and you’ll want to come back to again and again.

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