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lip lit: marika cobbold, drowning rose

Drowning Rose by Marika Cobbold (Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers) is a novel about guilt, grief and the heart-wrenching effects of schoolgirl manipulation. It centres around Eliza Cummings, whose estranged Godfather makes contact with her, asking her to visit him in Sweden. She hasn’t been in contact with him since the tragic death of his daughter – her best-friend – Rose, twenty-five years previously.

It is structured in two voices, the present day Eliza, and schoolmate Cassandra in the year of Rose’s death. The events leading up to Rose’s death are paralleled with Eliza struggling to allow her Godfather back in life again. Rose’s death has fractured her deeply, and Eliza finds it difficult to to maintain the relationships in her life, instead seeking solace in her work piecing together delicate ceramics. Cassandra’s part begins when she meets Eliza and Rose, and their friend Portia, when she attends their exclusive boarding school. Cobbold is successful at conveying two distinct tones. There is Eliza, apologetic and withdrawn, who seems to feel she doesn’t deserve happiness or success, resulting in a somewhat unnerving and destructive charitable side. Then there is Cassandra, insecure and desperate. It is Cassandra’s voice that is more compelling. Even though it doesn’t hold the same intensity similar novels do – such as Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye – it still displays just how horrific teenage girls can be with their words and manipulations.

For this reason, Drowning Rose is a novel that will resonate with every female reader. Every female knows just how volatile and fervent friendship is in your teenage years. We’ve all acted the part of a mean girl (yes, even you), and we’ve all been abused with words (or lack thereof). Maybe what is terrifying is that we can see a part of ourselves in all of the girls. Like Cassandra, we’ve all been desperate to be liked. Like Eliza, we’ve sat back and let events happen out of indignation, or because we want to fit in. Like Portia, we’ve been selfish and haven’t taken other’s feelings into account. Like all the girls, we’ve used people to get what we want and discarded them when we’re through. And by the time we reach nineteen, the majority of us have stopped this, and by the time you reach the middle of your twenties, you realise how badly some of your ‘friends’ and you treated each other. At twenty six, I can confidently say: You couldn’t pay me to be sixteen again.

Drowning Rose is a novel which explores themes such as grief, regret, guilt and loneliness with thought and care. However, I think Cobbold lets us down in some of her characterisations. Even when we are seeing things from Sandra’s point of view, she’s incredibly unlikeable, and it’s far too easy to see why the other girls do not wish to spend time with her. On the other extreme, Rose is portrayed with too much esteem, which doesn’t make her seem real, and as a consequence, it’s difficult to mourn her. While Drowning Rose is a haunting and delicate novel, it somewhat misses the mark.

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