Facing up to the future

This is my review of Oscar et la Dame rose by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

After an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant, ten-year-old Oscar puts the adults in his world to shame by the courage with which he faces the prospect of death. He is scornful of his distraught parents and sharp enough to perceive that his surgeon sees him primarily as an embarrassing and frustrating reminder of his own professional failure. The only “grown up” to offer Oscar some comfort is the eccentric hospital visitor “Mamie Rose”. Her suspect reminiscences of life as a successful wrestler, and the advice that Oscar should try writing letters to God, suggest that she may not be any more honest than the other adults, but combined with her idea of a game by which Oscar could imagine that each day represents a decade of the life (which he will not in reality experience), these ploys both entertain Oscar, and help him to grasp some vital points about living which it can take most of us years to understand, if at all.

Apart from Mamie Rose’s frankly tedious anecdotes, I found it implausible that Oscar would be so insightful about, for instance the “mid-life crisis”, and his romance with another patient, “Betty Blue”, is a bit mawkish at times. The most poignant moment for me occurs when, as a “very old man”, Oscar is struck by the beauty of nature, and realises that each day is to be appreciated as unique.

A philosopher by training, Schmitt uses quirky humour and an original approach to make just about tolerable a parable of how we could make more sense of life, and deal better with death. The focus on a young person’s death makes the situation all the more moving, but has relevance for us all.

Although I disliked this story at first, I was won over by the final pages, and was left with the sense that Schmitt has succeeded in provoking thoughts which stay in one’s mind. I believe this is studied in French schools and judging by reviews, it appeals to young people and is likely to spark discussion.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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