"She no longer wanted to live a safe life stifled by the fear of what may or may not happen. Instead she would try and grasp every opportunity that came her way with both hands, relishing the joyful immediacy of it and cherishing the satisfying memory of it afterwards. She had been too cautious for too long. She must begin to take chances as they presented themselves; to truly live".
Roses of Marrakech -a debut novel by Rachel Clare - is a seductive and sensuous book, with a dual timeline, set in 1944 and 2016.
Ivy Fielding is 36 years old, and works as a primary school teacher. She loves her job, but something is lacking in her life. She suffers from a low self-esteem due to a facial birthmark.
When she was little and wanted to know if her birthmark would disappear when she grew up, her great aunt Rose said: "I realise it hurts now and it seems like you feel this way forever but I promise you will grow up to be a beautiful young lady, you'll see".
And now Rose, a wise and caring woman, who was Ivy's kindred spirit, is gone, leaving her pretty little Lavenham cottage, crammed with books, and a lovingly tended garden, to Ivy and her mother.
Ivy had big dreams of travelling to exotic places where she could converse in French and other languages, but they remained unfulfilled.
And when the summer holidays approach, on the spur of the moment Ivy decides to book a five and a half week-holiday in Marrakech, a place she always wanted to visit: "A holiday. I've wanted to come for as long I can remember... When I was a little girl, my great aunt told me stories of snake charmers, the desert and the Atlas Mountains topped with snow. It's a place that has always intrigued me".
While staying at the riad and exploring the city, Ivy also reads her great aunt's diary, going back in time to Rose's childhood and young years. The diary proves to be a poignant reading, as Ivy discovers the tragic past of Rose's family. Her two elder sisters Violet and Eleanor died of TB, and the family never fully recovers from this double tragedy. The pages of the diary, telling the last days of both sisters, are utterly heart-breaking.
The diary tells the story of hardship, love and loss. During the war, Rose falls in love with an American GI, Ryan. Devastating circumstances force her to take decisions which will affect her and those she loves.
Ivy meets a handsome Canadian French artist Jacques, who stays in the same riad. He came to Morocco to find inspiration: "I realised that I found my spiritual nexus in Marrakech. Maybe I hadn't been running away from my previous life but in pursuit of this one all along?"
Together they wander around the city, exploring the markets, museums, looking at the architecture and sampling the local cuisine, and quickly they "become connected on a much more intimate level than just two travellers who had ended up in the same riad".
Jacques is a complex and complicated person, with deep secrets of his own. He is an emotional and passionate man. Ivy who's attuned to his inner vulnerability, senses that something in his past life has damaged him.
Since Ivy has problems of her own, does she have strength enough to help Jacques? Does their love affair have a future, or will it turn into a beautiful memory of a holiday romance?
In her final letter to Ivy, as a postscript to her diary, Rose tells Ivy to "follow her own heart and hold onto those you love and never let them go..." Will Ivy follow her great aunt's advice?
The author's enthusiasm about Morocco is palpable. Her knowledge of the country is impressive, but I often felt like I was reading a guide book. There is just too much textbook information.
Detailed descriptions at times overwhelm the story. While I enjoy reading about food and meals in novels, I don't want to read about every single morsel the characters have consumed. For example, when Ivy and her best friend Mei go out with Mei's kids, do I really want to know what everyone has ordered?
The same with the interior or clothes descriptions - there are too many details, which distract from the story.
And the main story is captivating. Ivy and Jacques' romance makes a compelling reading, while Rose's diary tells another story, full of heartbreak and desolation.
Roses of Marrakech is a beautiful story, filled with romance, secrets and regrets, second chances and redemption.
Clare captures the poetic beauty of Marrakech, with its vibrant souks, delicious food and complex people, exploring the history and cuisine with passion.
Many thanks to Rachel Clare, The Book Guild Ltd and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.
This post if part of the blog tour for Roses of Marrakech, you can follow the tour via the following blogs:
Book Guild: https://www.bookguild.co.uk/bookshop-collection/fiction/romance/roses-of-marrakech/
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roses-Marrakech-Rachel-Clare/dp/1912362716/
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Roses-Marrakech-Rachel-Clare/dp/1912362716/
I've never visited Morocco, but reading Roses of Marrakech made me feel like I was exploring the exotic locations with Ivy. The pages when Ivy and friends visit the women's co-op which is run by widowed and divorced women, producing argan oil, reminded me that I have read about that place - Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews wrote about it on her blog back in 2013. Check out her post Discovering argan oil and goat trees.
With Cheryl's permission, here is one of the photos from her trip.
|Image credits: Cheryl Pasquier, Madhouse Family Reviews|
Rachel Clare gained a BA (Hons) in French/English at Liverpool Hope University and an MA in Modern Languages Research at Lancaster University before training to be a journalist. She now lives in Lancaster and teaches French in a primary school. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was a child and coming runner up in a Sunday Express story competition gave her the confidence to write her first novel, Roses of Marrakech.
"Whenever I go on holiday, I always take y notebook with me. Visiting Morocco and Lavenham a few years ago, I made notes of my impressions of the places I visited and began writing the book when I returned", comments Rachel. "In the book, Ivy's struggles with coming to terms with her birthmark are based on my own experiences with cerebral palsy, whilst the characters, Violet and Eleanor are based on my great-aunts who both died of TB in the late 1920s".