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  • Mystical Rose
  • Written by Richard Scrimger
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  • Mystical Rose
  • Written by Richard Scrimger
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On Sale: November 02, 2011
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-385-67487-4
Published by : Doubleday Canada Doubleday CAN Titles
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A beautiful novel about the fragility of memory, Mystical Rose is the carefully paced monologue of a woman in her late eighties with a disordered mind. Now on her deathbed under the constant care of doctors and nurses, Rose is having a one-sided conversation with God.

Delving into her past, she revisits herself growing up in Cobourg, Ontario in the twenties. When her father returns from WWI an empty shell of his former self, she helps the family by going into service as a maid. Before long, she finds herself married to the scion of the wealthy family she works for, and transported into a world she doesn’t understand; life becomes even more difficult when he meets a terrible early death. Through Scrimger’s lyrical, precise prose and haunting images, Rose is revealed as a woman never quite in control of her own destiny, still trying to understand her own life.

To Rose, her mind ravaged by senile dementia, the events of six decades ago are just as immediate as those of yesterday. As the Globe and Mail said: “Rose isn’t sure why everyone is so upset with her and can’t understand what she’s saying, thinking, seeing.” She drifts from crystal-clear recollections of her past, to confusion in the present as she attempts to interact with hospital staff and her daughter Harriet, whom she fears she never loved well enough. She forgets words and misuses them — and yet, having worked in a flower shop for years, she still remembers the meaning of every flower’s name. Scrimger says: “Mystical Rose started from a picture I had of an old lady talking to God on her deathbed in a hospital. From there I began researching Alzheimer’s Disease.”

This short novel, then, is written as a subtle montage of experiences, a style which Scrimger says is suited to the way our minds work today, with the influences of film and television. “I think more like a filmmaker, using quick cuts. Our eyes are more attuned to video games and Much Music; it has affected the way our minds think. You can’t write like Dickens and Melville used to.” Mystical Rose was his first novel in four years; excerpts were published as he was writing it in the Ottawa Citizen. The book is sad, but as with Scrimger’s previous novel Crosstown: “There’s comedy in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find comedy.”



Your eyes are very dark. And sad. They’re so sad. Why is that? What have You done that’s so terrible? You’re okay – what am I saying, of course You’re okay. You don’t have anything to be sad about. Cheer up. Dry those tears. Turn that frown upside down. You can do it. You can do anything.

So why are You crying? There, now You’ve got me doing it too.

Water. Tears are water. All around me is water, rising, slopping against everything. Rising inside of my lungs, choking me. Just like it was the last time. Oh, Mama. All that commotion, and I can’t breathe. Cold, so cold.

A long time ago now.

How much has happened, how many births and deaths and givings in marriage, heartaches and headaches, love and laughter, wars and breakfasts. How much life.

Harriet’s always telling everyone how much I love life. My daughter, don’t blame me for the name; it was Robbie’s choice. He laughed when I suggested Gert, my best friend in grade school. No, I’m serious, I said, and he laughed some more. Mother loves life, says Harriet. A wonderful woman, my daughter. I hope I had as much energy when I was her age.

Here she is now, standing beside You. Does she see You? Her mouth is open but she’s not talking to You. She reaches towards me, huge white hands – she got them from Robbie too, along with the name. My hands are fine and delicate, pretty hands, my mother used to say. How could anyone mistake you for a boy, with such pretty hands, my baby? Pretty hands grabbing her veil, her big hat, her cambric handkerchief. Oh dear, I’m drowning again.
Harriet wipes my face. It feels nice. She says, There there, but I don’t know where she means. This is a hospital, there’s only here here.

Her hands are as cold as grade school. I used to get there before the teacher, who came in a cart all the way from Cobourg, six miles each way, almost two hours in the winter. I had to walk a mile down the Harwood Road to Precious Corners, and by the time I got to the schoolhouse I’d be frozen. A beautiful time of day, the sun rising over snow-covered fields. But cold. First one to school had to light the stove. The kindling used to smell of mice and dust. The fire was friendly and warm. Sometimes the boys used to throw each other’s homework in.

Four years old and no daddy. He’s off at The War, my mama told me. So was my friend Gert’s daddy. He was a farmer too, like my daddy. Mama cried. So did Gert’s mama. She had red hair and a face like a harvest moon. What’s The War? I asked, but Mama wouldn’t answer. What’s The War? I asked the teacher. A terrible thing.

I stayed away from the school in the spring, to help Mama and Victor with the farm. Lettuces and cabbages and corn to plant and pigs to feed, until the pigs all got sick. Six years old and no school. The teacher would come by in the evenings, to tell me what I’d missed. She brought the newspaper with her. There’s been a terrible battle at a place called Loos, she’d say. Or Gallipoli. All the places were strange sounding. Mama cried. The newspaper smelled like the inside of the teacher’s coat pocket. Then the letter arrived from Ottawa, saying Daddy was coming home. He got sick just like the pigs, but they died and he didn’t. Mama and I met him at the station in town, with all the neighbours. He hugged us and then limped over to talk to Gert’s mama. She fainted.

The leg wound got better, but Daddy was different inside. He didn’t care about anything any more, as if The War had taken out the part of him that minded. The seed corn came up too late, and the cabbages got holes in them, and he didn’t mind. Something broke into the barnyard in the middle of the night, maybe a coyote, and took our chickens, and he didn’t mind. My teacher died of the flu, and they closed the school until they could find someone else, and he didn’t mind. For days and days he wouldn’t get out of bed. Mama did her best with the harvest, and neighbours gave us help and meat, but the snow lasted a long time that year, and some days we had nothing to eat but cabbages and stale bread. We needed new furniture, Mama said so, and I needed new clothes, but Daddy said he didn’t mind the table and chairs we had. And Rose looks fine, he said. He sat by himself at the dinner table, close to the bottle of poison. That’s what Mama called it. His hair was grey.

I would have been ten when Victor broke his leg and couldn’t get up. I saw him first and ran to the house for help. Daddy came with me to the barn, stood outside the stall while Victor flopped around in his stall. I was crying. Daddy watched for a long time, then went to the house for his gun. I stayed in my room, and Daddy fired four shots at Victor’s head. I heard them. Horses have hard heads, you have to hit them just right. Victor would have told me that, later. Or do I mean Uncle Brian?

Is Dr. Berman in Your way? He’s new. He has an odd first name – Sunday, would it be – and he introduces himself by it. You could ask him to move, You know. Or You could blast him with the power of the worm that dieth not. I wonder what he’s saying to my daughter. His teeth are very expressive.
Richard Scrimger|Author Q&A

About Richard Scrimger

Richard Scrimger - Mystical Rose

Photo © Alvaro Goveia

Richard Scrimger is the award-winning author of nine novels for young readers, three picture books, and three books for adults. His works have been translated into eight languages, and have been critically acclaimed around the world. Columns detailing Richard’s adventures in parenthood have been published in The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, and Today’s Parent. His first children’s novel, The Nose from Jupiter, won the 10th Annual Mr. Christie’s Book Award. His most recent young adult novel, From Charlie’s Point of View, was a CLA Honor Book, and was chosen as one of the “Best of the Best” by the Chicago Public Library. His latest adult novel, Mystical Rose, was a Globe & Mail book of the year. He has four teenaged children, a collection of speeding tickets, and, usually, a puzzled expression.Richard Scrimger lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

Author Q&A

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?

Writing isn't a career you seek out; it finds you. I have "stories" (in the broadest sense) that I want to tell. If I were an artist or musician, these stories might come out in pictures or songs, but I never liked drawing or practising my piano. My stories come out in words. No one had to remind me to practise my reading.

2) What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?

Sometimes an idea floats gently into my head; sometimes it falls with a thump. What happened is that I was writing another book and the entire first section of Mystical Rose dropped into my head. When I looked up from the keyboard I'd written 2000 words and the main character was part of my life.

3) What is it that you're exploring in this book?

I write for children and for adults; and, while the techniques are different, the themes are very consistent. I am, in short, always writing the same kind of book. A search for meaning, for truth, for connection. I am interested in what happened to make us who we are, in why it happened, in what might have happened to make us different.

4) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?

Poor Rose, poor funny dementing life-loving Rose, is the strongest character, and the one with whom I have most in common. I confess to a sneaking sympathy for Uncle Brian, who shoots his brother, thinking he's a moose.

5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?

Rose is reviewing the various stages of her life as she is leaving it. I put the book together like a mosaic picture: a tile from her youth, then one from middle age, then one from childhood, then one from the day before yesterday. As more tiles are laid, the picture becomes clearer.

Bear in mind that the working title of the book is What Would Have Happened.

6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?

A well-known radio personality asked me to describe my marriage. "I want to know what things are like," I said. "My wife wants to know what things are. Neither of us can make pie crust." The silence stretched and stretched -- and then I asked the radio personality if he was married. We cut to commercial.

7) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?

Why have all your books sold so remarkably well?
How did you feel when the Nobel Committee called?
Nice to meet you, too, Mr Pitt -- but isn't this interview with Richard Scrimger?

8) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?

A review of my first novel, Crosstown, commented on the protagonist's "lethal passivity" -- a phrase that opened a door in him I hadn't seen before. And the "mystical aspect " of one of my children's novels so affected a reviewer that she asked me to preach a sermon at her church. Of course I agreed, but inside I was thinking, "What mystical aspect?"

9) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?

The authors I like make me laugh and think at the same time. Raymond Chandler comes to mind, and Kipling, and Anthony Powell. I am dazzled at Dickens' ability to write a great book filled with flaws. Austen is more re-readable than anyone else I know.

10) If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?

I suppose my fantasy career would involve music and the theater. I'm a lousy actor, but I love to perform. Apart from that ... gee, I don't know. Is there a career in playing crazy eights with your kids? In reading and eating?

I tell you one thing for sure: it wouldn't have anything to do with laundry.

11) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?

This question is begging for a smartypants answer -- unlike some of the other questions, which got smartypants answers whether they wanted them or not. I'll say Zane Grey's Thunder Mountain and Ian Rankin's Dead Souls, because they're what I'm reading right now.



“Everyone knows dementia is not funny. Except — in Scrimger’s deft hands, the humour always has an edge of tenderness and warmth… The prayer he writes for Rose might help readers understand why Mystical Rose should be on everybody’s reading list… I don’t know if God is listening, but Scrimger is. He’s a listener, a writer, a tale-teller, a songster, a humourist and a writer whose every book, it seems, will open for readers new ways of seeing and hearing.”—The Globe and Mail

“Scrimger’s lean, vivid prose sweeps the reader away…. Rose’s story unfolds with such delicate measure, such intuitive ease, that it casts a spell the reader will be reluctant to break. The lucid, vivid memories are threaded with fragmented contemporary confusion, as Alzheimer’s exerts an ever-greater control… The life of Rose Rolyoke becomes a world unto itself, a world into which the reader is privileged to be invited. Mystical Rose is a book of true beauty and grace, delicately balanced and nuanced.”—Quill & Quire

“Scrimger’s prose is elegant, understated, well-crafted; he handles the drifting mind of his heroine with a subtle mastery…”—The Toronto Star

“The strength of Mystical Rose comes from its tender evocation of the daily indignities, pathos (and bursts of comedy) of failing health; from its incomplete but still enticing depiction of the strained bond between mother and daughter.”—The National Post

“Especially effective is his portrayal of Rose’s life on the domestic staff of the Rolyokes, with its old-world, time-in-a-bottle quality… Scrimger’s convincing first-person account lends the story immediacy and draws the reader in.”—The Hamilton Spectator

“Scrimger [has] a clear eye, and original voice, and tight, punchy Hemingway-esque sentences, as well as a quirky, ironic humour.”—The Globe and Mail on Crosstown
Richard Scrimger

Richard Scrimger Events>

Richard Scrimger - Mystical Rose

Photo © Alvaro Goveia

5/2/2015 Claudia Davila. TD Canadian Children's Book Week Tour.


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  • Mystical Rose by Richard Scrimger
  • April 10, 2001
  • Fiction
  • Doubleday Canada
  • $17.95
  • 9780385259552

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