#RivetingReviews: Paul Burke reviews ROSE ROYAL: A LOVE STORY by Nicolas Mathieu

Men have always let Rose down and yet she enters every new relationship with hope. Despite her efforts to convince herself that she’s happy in her lonely existence, the truth is that she is empty and unfulfilled. Rose is still attractive, a youthful fifty, but the signs of ageing are written on her face. In her mind, the clock is ticking. So, even though a renewed search for happiness in love flies in the face of experience, Rose is resolved to try again. When she meets Luc, her doubts are shelved: he will be different. Sadly though, this transpires to be a love story more in expectation than fulfilment. What we ultimately get is a doomed affair, a Parisian tragedy in three acts. 

Rosie is long since divorced, the mother of two boys who have grown up and flown the nest, and the survivor of several failed relationships. Some of her ex-lovers have been violent, but more often they have been threatening and manipulative – suffocating relationships engineered by intimidating, overbearing and bullying men. Rose’s last boyfriend, Thierry, seemed like a decent man until the day he snapped at her for making too much noise on the phone while he was watching the news. In that moment, she once again saw ‘the ugliness of men whose arguments have run dry’ and impulsively decided to buy a gun. Although disturbed by the power the weapon seemed to give her, she was excited by the thought of rowing with Thierry. In the event though, he stopped calling: it was over. Ever since, she has carried the .38 calibre handgun in her handbag. And as Chekhov’s rule dictates, a pistol introduced must be used…

Rose is also a creature of habit, and when we meet her back in the present she is heading off as usual to her favourite haunt, The Royal, after another day at the office. There, barman Fred will have a beer ready for her, and with her best friend Marie-Jeanne she’ll chew over how sick of men they are. The Royal isn’t fashionable but it suits Rose, who comes here almost every night. That particular evening – the night she meets Luc – the bar is unusually crowded. Suddenly there’s a loud bang outside and, with traumatic memories of the Bataclan massacre still fresh in the mind, everybody freezes for a moment. Then a man, Luc, enters with a dying dog in his arms. The animal, Lola, has been knocked down by a car. Rose is instantly drawn to Luc’s sadness. She sees the fact that her favourite Johnny Hallyday song is playing when he enters as a happy portent, rather than reading the death of the dog as ominous sign. 

After their initial meeting in the bar, Luc calls her back, and they soon grow close. From the beginning something is off, but Rose ignores it. They don’t quite connect, yet Rose is slow to recognise fault in Luc, who progressively reveals himself not to be the charming, thoughtful man she imagined. As their affair presses on, it passes the point of no return. We see clearly, and feel deeply, the inexorable drive toward a catastrophic end.

Rose Royal: A Love Story is at once a meditation on the vicissitudes of life and the portrait of a woman on the edge, weighed down by disappointment, loneliness and vulnerability. This is a poignant tale of misogyny and male violence, a gut punch delivered in precise, spare prose that encapsulates why Nicolas Mathieu is a former Prix Goncourt winner. 

Reviewed by Paul Burke

ROSE ROYAL: A LOVE STORY

by Nicolas Mathieu

Translated by Sam Taylor

Published by Other Press (2022)

March 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Paul Burke writes The Verdict column for nbmagazine.co.uk, interviews, articles and features for crimefictionlover.com, crimetime.co.uk and presents for Crime Time TV&FM podcast. Paul is a book collector, lover of literature in translation and a crime fiction aficionado.

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