Iris Bowen has just been sacked.
It’s not her fault, as the author of a weekly gardening column in a regional newspaper, that the publishing industry has been in decline and budgets are being slashed everywhere. Her work is good. A lifelong gardener and natural writer, she has been performing well, despite having lost her husband to cancer only two years prior. But the world is changing. Perhaps, her editor suggests, she could guest write a blog for free for a while? If it becomes popular…well, what writer doesn’t know the thrill of writing for exposure?
Quiet and undemanding, Iris tries to focus on her job options, but her bigger problem that day is her mammogram. In her forties, it is time for Iris to go for her screening, which has taken on a particular terror after the quick death of her husband.
The old linoleum was so polished that with every move, as she crossed and uncrossed her legs, it squeaked. The chill in the air made her shiver. She clutched her breasts. Nobody had touched them since Luke. She held her breath and counted. exhaled long. Breathed again. One, two, three–
When the results from the mammogram reveal that there’s an distortion in her left breast that will require further testing to rule out cancer, Iris’s world is turned upside down. She fears for herself, but she’s more frightened because she is the adoptive mother of a 19 year old daughter named Rose and she is terrified of leaving her orphaned at such a young age.
Rose, a musical protégé, is in London studying to be a classical violinist at the Royal Academy. Like Iris, she is still wrapped in her grief for Luke, and filled with questions about her future. When her final master class goes badly wrong, she makes a grand gesture that throws her entire future into question and amps up the tension of the novel.
Back in Ireland and facing her own mortality, Iris recalls the promise that Luke extracted from her before he died — that she would track down Rose’s birth mother, who had been a young American graduate student at Trinity College. Iris goes to the Adoption Board in Dublin and discovers only a decades-old address in Boston. Ignoring her follow-up appointment and telling no one where she is going, Iris impulsively books a plane ticket and sets herself to follow the footsteps of her daughter’s birth mother. She has planned her trip so impulsively that she even forgets to pack a nightgown.
Looking at herself in the mirror now as she was ready to go downstairs, she felt acutely like an imposter. (What does one wear when meeting the woman who birthed your child?) She sat down on the edge of the bed and took off the sandals and put on the heels. She wanted to look smart meeting Hilary Barrett. She wanted to look like she’d measured up to the mother Hilary had probably hoped for when she gave her baby over to the adoption agency all those years ago. She tried to think about what she was wearing tjat day, but she couldn’t remember.
In Boston, a deeply emotional Iris finds herself at an eccentric B&B, run by a good-hearted but lonely widow who talks entirely too much for Iris’s taste. The other residents also forcefully intrude on Iris’s solitude, forcing her to unburden her fears onto strangers as she figures out how to face them. She meets Hector Sherr, a celebrated jazz pianist who is instantly drawn to the red-headed Irish widow, and who refuses to let her go on her journey alone. When Iris feels her own attraction to him, she must face the fact that Luke is dead, but she is still very alive. In Ireland, Rose faces a parallel journey to her mother, as she is courted a the custom violin that is proclaiming to have fallen in love with her at first sight.
As Iris looks for Hilary, the members of Hilary’s world also find their ways into the narrative, and the novel’s theme of unlikely connections between strangers emerges. They are being drawn together by Rose, who is ironically unaware of her own importance to the story. The novel takes place only over the span of a few short weeks, but as the lives of the characters turn, the setting of time and place begins to feel magical.
Her Name is Rose is foremost a novel about love and loneliness, where sadness often serves to unite strangers and make unlikely friendships. Although there’s nothing surprising in the denouement, all of the characters are so sympathetic that it remains a compelling and heart-warming read to the end. Iris’s identity as a gardener and Rose’s role as a musician also fill the book with beauty. When their talents merge in the final emotional scene of the novel, it just feels right and true.
- Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
- Publish Date: April 14, 2015
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- ISBN: 1250054214
- Language: English
- Rating: 3 of 5 stars