When I read a book, I usually find something likeable about the main character, even if it takes a few pages or the whole book to find out what that thing is. But Maureen McCarthy’s 19-year old protagonist Rose, in Rose by any other Name, is not likeable as a person. She was on track to follow in her father’s footsteps as a lawyer before things outside of her control sent her spiralling down a different path. The Rose we meet in the first few pages of the book is a Rose who has made mistakes and is still punishing herself, and her family, for the events of the past year and a half. When Rose’s mother decides to tag along with her on a road trip down the coast, to visit Rose’s dying grandmother, Rose is less than impressed. And as much as she tries, she can’t hide it.
Rose is a character stuck at an awkward age. The extravagant dreams of her teenage years and belief and hope in the world and in herself are over, and, given her recent questionable choices, she seems to be at a point where she thinks she can’t ever move on and find redemption. She happily tells the world what she thinks, even when what she thinks is hard to take. I like McCarthy’s characterisation of Rose, but Rose herself, well, she has a few more hard lessons she needs to learn.
While I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m finally past young adult fiction. This is a genre I’ve always loved and yet, reading this book, I became extremely frustrated by Rose’s superficial angst and her inability to get over herself. Thinking back to other YA novels I’ve loved, I can’t remember feeling this way about any other characters before, so maybe it is just that Rose is over the top. But that is not a fault of McCarthy’s writing, which is sharp, strong, and her characterisation is some of the best I’ve ever read. I especially loved reading the contrasting personality traits between Rose and her three sisters, and the scenes in the book where all four siblings are in the same room are the most vivid and heart-warming sections of the book.
For everything I don’t like about Rose’s character, I admire McCarthy’s resolve in creating this strong protagonist, and rode the waves with Rose right in to the shore, as she comes to terms with her life’s turmoil. Even the worst mistakes of your life don’t have to mean the end.
What did you think?