cover image A Single Rose

A Single Rose

Muriel Barbery, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson. Europa, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-1-60945-677-1

Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog) returns with a lyrical and opaque story of a French woman grieving her Japanese father, a man she’d never met. Forty-year-old Parisian botanist Rose travels to Kyoto for the reading of the will of her father, the influential art dealer Haru Ueno. Before the reading, Haru’s assistant, Paul, a Belgian widower, drags Rose along to visit a series of temples as part of an itinerary left by Haru. Uncertain how she should feel and initially disoriented by the gardens and flowers around her, Rose yearns to know more about her father. She discovers, despite remaining distant, that he kept up with her life by hiring photographers to follow her and send back photos. She drifts through the days with lugubrious philosophical thoughts (“The branches reconstituted a tableau of perfection, and the visual choreography of it touched her heart but also irritated her”), and just as Rose recognizes her attraction to Paul, he leaves suddenly for Tokyo on business, and the day of the will reading rapidly approaches. Barbery includes standalone aphoristic Japanese tales, such as that of a healer who “knew the virtues of plants,” which add texture but feel tenuously connected to the central narrative. This plaintive novel impresses with its smoothness, but it will leave readers wondering how the pieces are meant to fit together. (Sept.)