At the heart of Rose Tremain’s new book Rosie, a memoir of the “frozen world” of her upper-middle- class childhood, is a chilling portrait of maternal failure and cruelty. “My mother really didn’t like us, either me or my sister,” Tremain says. “And I don’t quite know why.” If only her nanny, whom she describes as an “angel” and “saviour”, had been her mother. “She was the kindest person I’ve ever known.”
Tremain, the festival’s Golding Speaker this year, is a cornerstone of our literary establishment. Novelist and short story writer, she was one of only six women on Granta’s list of best young British novelists in 1983. Since then she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her historical novel Restoration, won the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award with Music & Silence and the Orange Prize for Fiction with The Road Home. And now comes Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life, a riveting memoir that is as shocking as it is moving. No surprise that she waited until her parents were dead before writing the book.
Tremain was made a CBE in 2007 and is a former Chancellor and alumna of the University of East Anglia, where she also taught creative writing. She lives in Norfolk with the biographer Richard Holmes.