Rose Tremain, born Rose Thomson, began writing at the age of ten, when her father’s sudden abandonment of his family motivated her to express her feelings through the written word. It was only after being encouraged by the novelist Angus Wilson in a university course that she began seriously to consider becoming an author, however; Wilson was very important to, and supportive of, her subsequent development. She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of East Anglia before becoming a teacher of English, French, and history at the junior high school level in Great Britain. After working as a subeditor and researcher for the BPC Publishing Group, she became a full-time writer in the mid-1970’s and published her first novel, Sadler’s Birthday, in 1976.
Although young authors are often advised to write what they know, Tremain took quite a different tack in creating a body of work that ranges widely over historical periods and human types. The protagonist of her first novel, for example, is a seventy-six-year-old man who is about to have another birthday, but Jack Sadler is not entirely sure exactly when this will occur. Alone and in failing health, he nonetheless carries on with the determination to make sense out of the past events that periodically pop up in his consciousness, and the result is an intriguing story that belies its commonplace materials. Letter to Sister Benedicta, in which a fiftyish housewife copes with her husband’s debilitating stroke, and The Cupboard, whose protagonist is an eighty-seven-year-old writer explaining the reasons for her suicide, also demonstrate a remarkable ability to write sympathetically about the kinds of older subjects who are too often scorned by authors anxious to appear youthful and contemporary.
Tremain’s literary status was significantly enhanced by her selection as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 1983. This special issue of the magazine has achieved cult status among students...
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