Rose Pritchard has fled her home with her seven-year-old daughter Maddie. As Dearest Rose begins, she is knocking on the door of a B&B in a remote Cumbrian village, miles away from her home, in the middle of the night. The only place Rose can think of to flee to is a place she has dreamt about finding since before the birth of her daughter, in search of a face she can’t put out of her mind.
The letter that precedes the first chapter, written to Rose from a man called Frasier, is what she is chasing. One ten-minute meeting with somebody who showed her warmth and kindness, in a period of her life when she was alone and afraid, has led her to drive almost the length of the country. She is not just running away from something, but running towards a new life that she hopes exists, that she hopes she hasn’t imagined. It is a wonderful, romantic premise for a novel, but as Dearest Rose progresses, it is clear that this is so much more than a simple love story.
Frasier, the man she is hoping to meet again, came to Rose’s house over seven years before, looking for painter John Jacobs. John is also Rose’s father, and walked out on Rose and her mother when Rose was still a young child. After Rose has arrived at the B&B, it becomes clear that it is not only Frasier who is known in the village. Rose has to make a decision about whether to revisit some painful memories from when she was much younger, and risk a second chance with a relationship she thought was over.
Dearest Rose is a wonderful, wonderful book. The writing style is effortlessly simple and beautiful, so that I was completely swept up in Rose’s story. She is a woman on the verge of a new life. She is both incredibly strong and utterly vulnerable – almost childlike in some ways. She has gone from being young and alone into a sheltered, controlling relationship, almost missing out some stages of growing up, and is suddenly faced with independence.
Throughout the book, details about Rose’s past unfold. Her husband’s control over her increased gradually, almost unnoticeably, until he had removed so much of her self confidence she was unsure she could survive outside the relationship. Her best friend Shona hides a similar secret, and her situation is seen from Rose’s point of view. While she is frustrated at Shona’s inability to break ties with her abusive partner, Rose’s own back story somehow serves to demonstrate that everyone has their own reasons for staying, for justifying their decisions. The abuse is not shied away from, and makes very difficult reading at some points, but is by no means sensationalised either.
Rose is surrounded by some other wonderful characters: Shona, hiding her vulnerability behind an outrageous, brash persona; steely but loveable Jenny who owns the B&B; smitten Ted the barman; Rose’s father John, hiding away from life and the decisions he has made in a remote, mountainside cottage, and dependable, handsome Frasier. But my favourite character was Rose’s seven year old daughter Maddie. She is unusually articulate, the voice of honesty, and has a view of the world that is entirely, unsympathetically real. She has been plucked from a smaller, more regimented world than she is faced with in Millthwaite and, while some of her observations are shocking, mainly because she is always so matter of fact, she also made me laugh out loud.
As Rose begins to rebuild her life, to face her past as well as look towards a new future, nothing seems to go to plan. The problems she encounters are not only of others’ making but are also her own, as she struggles to emerge out of the darkness she has been living in for so long. I completely believed her decisions, her actions, her frailties and her relationships. I laughed a lot, I sobbed even more, and I finished Dearest Rose wholly satisfied by the wonderful storytelling. If there’s one warning I would have about this book, it’s that you should only pick it up when you’ve got a lot of time to spare, because you’ll find it very hard to put down.