Mystical Rose

Publisher: Doubleday Canada
A beautiful novel about the fragility of memory, Mystical Rose is the carefully paced monologue of a woman in her late eighties with a disordered mind. Now on her deathbed under the constant care of doctors and nurses, Rose is having a one-sided conversation with God.

Delving into her past, she revisits herself growing up in Cobourg, Ontario in the twenties. When her father returns from WWI an empty shell of his former self, she helps the family by going into service as a maid. Before long, she finds herself married to the scion of the wealthy family she works for, and transported into a world she doesn’t understand; life becomes even more difficult when he meets a terrible early death. Through Scrimger’s lyrical, precise prose and haunting images, Rose is revealed as a woman never quite in control of her own destiny, still trying to understand her own life.

To Rose, her mind ravaged by senile dementia, the events of six decades ago are just as immediate as those of yesterday. As the Globe and Mail said: “Rose isn’t sure why everyone is so upset with her and can’t understand what she’s saying, thinking, seeing.” She drifts from crystal-clear recollections of her past, to confusion in the present as she attempts to interact with hospital staff and her daughter Harriet, whom she fears she never loved well enough. She forgets words and misuses them — and yet, having worked in a flower shop for years, she still remembers the meaning of every flower’s name. Scrimger says: “Mystical Rose started from a picture I had of an old lady talking to God on her deathbed in a hospital. From there I began researching Alzheimer’s Disease.”

This short novel, then, is written as a subtle montage of experiences, a style which Scrimger says is suited to the way our minds work today, with the influences of film and television. “I think more like a filmmaker, using quick cuts. Our eyes are more attuned to video games and Much Music; it has affected the way our minds think. You can’t write like Dickens and Melville used to.” Mystical Rose was his first novel in four years; excerpts were published as he was writing it in the Ottawa Citizen. The book is sad, but as with Scrimger’s previous novel Crosstown: “There’s comedy in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find comedy.”



Your eyes are very dark. And sad. They’re so sad. Why is that? What have You done that’s so terrible? You’re okay – what am I saying, of course You’re okay. You don’t have anything to be sad about. Cheer up. Dry those tears. Turn that frown upside down. You can do it. You...
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“Everyone knows dementia is not funny. Except — in Scrimger’s deft hands, the humour always has an edge of tenderness and warmth… The prayer he writes for Rose might help readers understand why Mystical Rose should be on everybody’s reading list… I don’t know if God is listening, but Scrimger is. He’s a listener, a writer, a tale-teller, a songster, a humourist and a writer whose every book, it seems, will open for readers new ways of seeing and hearing.”—The Globe and Mail

“Scrimger’s lean, vivid prose sweeps the reader away…. Rose’s story unfolds with such delicate measure, such intuitive ease, that it casts a spell the reader will be reluctant to break. The lucid, vivid memories are threaded with fragmented contemporary confusion, as Alzheimer’s exerts an ever-greater control… The life of Rose Rolyoke becomes a world unto itself, a world into which the reader is privileged to be invited. Mystical Rose is a book of true beauty and grace, delicately balanced and nuanced.”—Quill & Quire

“Scrimger’s prose is elegant, understated, well-crafted; he handles the drifting mind of his heroine with a subtle mastery…”—The Toronto Star

“The strength of Mystical Rose comes from its tender evocation of the daily indignities, pathos (and bursts of comedy) of failing health; from its incomplete but still enticing depiction of the strained bond between mother and daughter.”—The National Post

“Especially effective is his portrayal of Rose’s life on the domestic staff of the Rolyokes, with its old-world, time-in-a-bottle quality… Scrimger’s convincing first-person account lends the story immediacy and draws the reader in.”—The Hamilton Spectator

“Scrimger [has] a clear eye, and original voice, and tight, punchy Hemingway-esque sentences, as well as a quirky, ironic humour.”—The Globe and Mail on Crosstown