A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery – review

Published by Gallic Press

Publication date – 23 September 2021

Source – review copy

Translated by Alison Anderton

Rose has turned 40, but has barely begun to live. When the Japanese father she never knew dies and she finds herself an orphan, she leaves France for Kyoto to hear the reading of his will.

In the days before Haru’s last wishes are revealed, his former assistant, Paul, takes Rose on a tour of the temples, gardens and eating places of this unfamiliar city. Initially a reluctant tourist and awkward guest in her late father’s home, Rose gradually comes to discover Haru’s legacy through the itinerary he set for her, finding gifts greater than she had ever imagined.

Rose has travelled from France to Japan. There in Kyoto she is to hear the will of her father, Haru, a man she has never met. But first she is taken on a tour of the city by her father’s assistant Paul, part of her Haru’s final wishes. And as Rose discovers more of the city and of her father, she also discovers more about herself in the process.

Rose is as thorny as her name sake. She has learnt to build up defensive walls over the years, resulting, perhaps, from her childhood raised by her mother, who suffered from depression and was distant, and her grandmother, the only person she recalls with love. Her romantic relationships have always faded into nothing, as much she thinks from her reserve and refusal to fully commit her mind to a partner, as from the choice of man she became entangled with.

She has travelled to Japan reluctantly, though she is curious to learn more about the father she has never met. She is resentful at first, wonders why it is that Haru is now so keen for Rose to learn about her Japanese heritage, after he has gone.

Slowly the city works it’s magic over Rose, as she comes to appreciate the temples and the different responses they invoke in her. She begins to understand her mother more, how she retreated into herself, consumed by her illness. She recalls the happy times they spent together, and begins to see how part of her has always held the rest of the world at arms length. She realises to be happy herself, she has to let down some of the walls she has built.

This realisation also comes as she spends more time with Paul, a man similarly of two cultures. Though born in Belgium, he has lived for many years in Japan and is therefore perhaps a mirror image of Rose, half Japanese but thoroughly European.

It is not just Rose that slowly falls in love with Japan. As the reader follows Rose on her journey, the descriptions of the temples and bars, of the friends of Haru, the customs and every day life, all help to paint a wonderfully evocative portrait of Kyoto.

This is not a long novel but it does not need to be. The reader sees enough of Rose’s journey to know that she is on the right path as the final page turns.

I read A Single Rose in a single day. An ode to Japan, it is a beautifully written story that takes a poignant look at how our past shapes us and a reminder to embrace what life has to offer.

About the Author

Muriel Barbery is the author of four previous novels, including the IMPAC-shortlisted multimillion-copy bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

She has lived in Kyoto, Amsterdam and Paris and now lives in the French countryside.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. JacquiWine says:

    This sounds lovely, Janet, just my kind of thing!


  2. I totally adored this book. It is right now my #1 favorite book of 2021!


  3. heavenali says:

    I recently read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I really enjoyed. This sounds lovely too, Muriel Barbery must have an affinity with Japan, as there was a Japanese character in Elegance and two other characters loved Japanese culture.


  4. This sounds lovely! Poignant but not sentimental – perfect. I do like a short novel too 🙂


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