Absolutely and Forever

Written by Rose Tremain
Review by Douglas Kemp

England in the late 1950s and early ´60s. Marianne Clifford comes from a comfortable, complacent middle-class background. Public-school educated, her life is shaped by her schoolgirl love affair with an older boy, Simon Hurst, which starts when she is fifteen. This is a delightfully told narrative of Marianne’s life in the first person, in swinging Sixties England, a life that is conventional and bourgeois yet affected by the social turmoil of the times. Marianne is eccentric, spiky and volatile, and while engaging, would indeed be a challenge to live with. Towards the conclusion of the story, she learns of two major elements that hitherto she was wholly unaware of; these revelations help to make some sense of these key events in her relatively young life.

The reader necessarily wonders how much of Marianne’s narrative is formed by Rose Tremain’s own experience. Both Marianne and the writer were born in 1943, and there are certainly similarities in their young adult life trajectories. Indeed, Marianne starts writing fiction, but seems to be taking an extraordinarily long time drafting what appears to be an allegorical short story. While the novel is set firmly and capably within the milieu of 1960s England, there is one anachronism – reference is made to visiting Zambia before the country was given its new post-colonial name; at the time in the story, it would have been known as Northern Rhodesia. The novel does finish with almost indecent haste and gives the impression that it was all rather hurried; I was reading a digital review copy and initially thought that my copy may have been incomplete. But, no, that was the ending. I do hope Rose Tremain managed to catch her train or whatever was her deadline.