Review #1: A Rose is Rose by Georgina Bruce

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jan 7, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website:
Published by: Strange Horizons, December 21st, 2009

The Story:

A Rose is Rose is a colorful, sensual tale that intertwines the stories of a body paint artist named Sashi and storybook illustrator named Sarah. Both artists struggle with their needs to express their creativity as well as their sexuality in what creates an interesting pair of love triangles, both tender and twisted at the same time.

Sashi finds herself in very intimate quarters with the King, fending off his advances as she paints his body in preparation for his upcoming nuptials, which are to be carried out in a grand style befitting India’s royalty despite the war and famine that has swept the land. The King and his bride will ride atop two adorned elephants through the streets in a wedding procession, and Sashi is tasked with painting the elephants as well. It becomes her obsession — these elephants being an emotional tether to the only memory she has of her mother.

Sarah is caught in a love triangle of her own, and it’s wreaking havoc with her creativity. She’s embarrassingly behind on the storybook illustrations for Ravi, her not quite friend/not quite lover, and in her compulsive delusions, Sarah has snaked her way into a metaphysical threesome involving sketches of Ravi’s wife.

The Craft:

The interplay between first person (Sarah) and third person omniscient points of view worked well, sort of a sling-shot of momentum propelling the story along. The characters were instantly distinctive, and though there wasn’t much physical description, after finishing the story I felt as if I’d be able to pick them out of a lineup. The images the author painted in my head were incredibly clear. I could see the elephants parading through the streets, the intricacy of the postcards painted on Sashi’s nails, and the haunting, resonant image of the bloodied meat parcel.

The story is subtly otherwordly, with the characters from the two different worlds encroaching on each other until the clever twist at the end. I enjoyed how delicate this story was, though I found myself wishing the reveal about the elephants being eaten hadn’t been quite so harsh of a statement. I would have preferred to see Sashi discovering the elephants’ fates herself, or figuring it out on my own as a reader. Also, I had a hard time placing the setting of the story — the where and the when seemed somewhat generic. I think my mind settled on a near-future post-war India for Sashi’s story and a present-day India for Sarah’s story, though it’s quite likely that I missed some cues.

A Rose is Rose serves as an example of great character development, as each character has his/her own goals, fears, and desires — all of which inevitably clash with the other characters, making tension mount through the entire story. The characters have interesting backstories and histories that affect their actions, which are well-placed in the story and add depth without slowing the story down. The characters are both cruel and loving, which makes them realistic and easy to identify with and feel for.

Overall, this story is an easy, enjoyable read, and although subtly is its strong suit, it doesn’t leave you digging aimlessly for meaning and answers.

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