Rose Doran Dreams
Rose Doran Dreams
Rose Doran Dreams is a psychological fairy tale. Rose escapes from her lonely home life into magical stories that she and her strange, fantasist neighbour Paedric create. But as she begins to lose her grip on reality, her imaginary world becomes more beguiling and disturbing than real life. Can she ever wake up to find her true self again?
Jean Books, 31 March 2022. Based on my early novel The Vinegar Jar, which was originally published by Hamish Hamilton, 1994 (hardback), Penguin, 1995 (paperback) and BillyWorks, 2011 (ebook).
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Rose Doran lies as naked as a peach on top of her bed and watches the moth that flutters its dark and dusty wings down the wall. Maybe, she thinks, Paedric will hear its whispery strumming between her room and his and think of her before he sleeps. She closes her eyes and imagines the moth’s lips brushing like velvet along her flesh.
Rose Doran Dreams is a spell-binding tale. Its off-beat story world is beautifully realised, its atmosphere subtly sensual with a sinister undertow. The novel is fascinatingly structured around oppositions: passion versus boredom; spontaneity versus routine; beauty versus ugliness; love versus hate; sanity versus madness; fairy-tale versus actuality, and reality versus imagination. It’s from the last of these that the novel derives most of its energy and tension rises as the distinction becomes increasingly and dangerously blurred. This is an utterly original, vivid, gripping, and sometimes disturbing, read.
About ‘Rose Doran Dreams’
Rose Doran has always been a dreamer and a lover of the stories that her beloved brother and teacher tell her. She falls in love with a romantic, glamorous dancer, and punishes him for his unfaithfulness by stealing his baby, Edmund. Now she needs a father for the child, and when she chooses and older, steady man called Gordon she finds herself trapped in an unfulfilled marriage. She is desperate for the passionate love she had felt for her dancer. Her only solace is in recalling fairy stories from her childhood, and in inventing new ones, which become ever darker and more disturbing. She translates life into strange and frightening stories and sexual fantasies, and the edges of fantasy and reality become blurred until there seems to be no escape.
Next door to her is Paedric, a strange, gnome-like man who lives in a dream world of his own. He gradually draws Rose into his surreal imaginings. Her husband Gordon watches helplessly as the strange affair of intimate minds develops.
Rose Doran Dreams explores the power of the imagination and the deep psychological effect that dreams and ‘fairy stories’ have on Rose’s behaviour and relationships, and which eventually lead to her mental breakdown. In the end the only solution for Gordon is to treat Rose as a fairy tale princess. Will she ever escape from her imaginary tower of dreams?
The book is wonderful … such a brilliant mix of gritty social realism/psychological horror/fantasy and all written with your customary imagination and heart. It’s a really dizzying trip … almost in the druggie sense too! … between the understated deep emotions and the wild, phantasmagoric excesses which Rose is led through. The imaginary baby created out of stories set against the real Edmund is both moving and scary. The book reminded me at times of Angela Carter.
From ‘The Vinegar Jar’ to ‘Rose Doran Dreams’
Rose Doran Dreams is based on one of my earlier novels for adults, The Vinegar Jar. I thought you might like to know a little about why I chose to rework the original book and how I did it. It is over thirty years since I wrote The Vinegar Jar. I still don’t know where it came from, in the sense that it is unlike anything I had written before or since, except in poetry. In a way it is an extended poem. I only know where the idea for the opening page came from.
I was in hospital in France following an accident, and was confined to bed in a single room ward. I was there for a week, and during that time I would often hear the people in the next ward talking. I couldn’t hear what they were saying except that they were a man and a woman, and I could tell by the tone and volume that sometimes the conversation was amorous, sometimes there were arguments, laughter, tears. Day and night this happened, sometimes for hours on end. When I was being taken from my ward at the end of the week I peered through the open door of the next one and saw just one bed with someone asleep in it. I told the nurse that I often heard two voices and she said, ‘Oh no, he never has any visitors.’
I found her story tragic, poignant, and unbearably moving. You track Rose’s shifts of mood expertly, expressing the twists and turns of her mind with pinpoint accuracy. Stories within stories – clever stuff. I was reminded strongly of the American writer Elizabeth Strout and her ‘Olive’ books. Anne Tyler is another who came to mind. It is a book that will stay with me long after the last line.
The fascinating process of rediscovery
I also know what gave me the courage to write the book. An important figure from the literary world gave me a challenge: ‘It’s time for you to let go, Berlie. You could fly.’ So that gave me the courage to write in a much more literary, ambitious way than I had ever written before.
I was very upset when Hamish Hamilton decided not to reprint The Vinegar Jar after its initial run. It lay fallow for years, with just an unedited edition available as an ebook. Yet still those characters, Rose Doran and Paedric, haunted me. I wanted to know more about them.
And then, last year, I decided to make a project of reworking it, making it fuller, richer and, I hope, a more engaging read. Very little of the plot of the original story is changed, but the characters and their behavioural dynamics are much larger. I didn’t restructure it, and didn’t lay out an outline for the new book. I never do. It’s a matter of building up the story from the inside. But every time I re-read it I got new ideas about the characters and their relationships. I developed Rose’s relationship with her mother, her stolen son Edmund, her husband Gordon, and with the story magician Paedric. As the characters grew, so did the complexities of their lives and emotions. And as the characters grew and interacted, so did the internal stories. It was a fascinating process, as I was rediscovering this book after nearly thirty years. I had forgotten much of it, so it was like refashioning a once-familiar garment to make it fit an older me.
Dreamlike, intense and sexy.
I love the book, it’s extraordinary, powerful and disturbing.
Rose Doran’s childhood is coloured by loneliness; her parents are distant and cold, she loses her beloved brother, and when her school is bombed her teacher at first befriends and then rejects her. Rose’s alone-ness shifts and transforms, with each turn of this kaleidoscope novel. She glides through love and loss and longing into a fantasy world where dreams and reality are so skilfully blended, the reader – like Rose – no longer knows the difference between them. As the fairy tales she hears and tells become deeper and darker, Rose herself is transformed into a magical but captive princess, a Princess in a Tower. Can she ever escape? Berlie Doherty has written a wonderfully evocative novel.
This is a mesmeric tale, beautifully told, of how we can inhabit the enchantment and richness of another’s dreams.
Rose Doran Dreams is a novel of power – of passion, loss, and a longing to be loved. Haunted by folktale and fantasy, the book serves to remind us of the tragic conflict between dream and reality. With gentle music, Doherty explores the latent content of common fairytale, and reminds us that our imaginations can be frightening places to be.
This is an adult fairy story. In these pages I found shades both of Angela Carter’s fairy stories and Joanne Harris’s magic realism… the prose is tight and beautifully expressed, in many parts with poetic precision.
You may like to read my other novel for adults, Requiem.
Some reviews of ‘The Vinegar Jar’
Doherty… delights, surprises, disturbs and moves the reader… with admirable finesse.
The novel is compelling as an account of the dangerous development of a compensatory imagination.
Times Literary Supplement
Doherty’s novel has a strange hypnotic strength and dramatises powerfully the dangers of blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
Berlie Doherty is best known as a children’s author, and her first novel for adults has the otherworldly air of a creepy bedtime story… Doherty’s grim tale is a haunting reminder that the imagination isn’t always the sanctuary it appears to be. Some dreams end badly.