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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Oscar and the Lady in Pink
by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Age Range: 9-11
Oscar is ten years old and dying of cancer. Around him in the hospital, everybody wears awkward smiles, refusing to acknowledge the inevitable or certainly to admit it in his presence. Only one person is willing to speak the unspeakable, agreeing with Oscar that he doesn’t have long to live. ‘Granny Rose’ is one of the women in pink who visit patients twice a week. The two form a strong bond, and on Oscar’s request, she is given special dispensation to visit him daily. It is on Granny Rose’s suggestion that Oscar tries to live each of the next 12 days as though it is ten years. She also suggests that he write about each ‘decade’ in a series of letters to God (a God in whom Oscar thinks he does not believe).
It is Oscar’s letters which make up this moving (but unsentimental) book. The outcome is a candid and bittersweet insight into one boy’s experience and perceptions of life. His story is poignant but also touched with humour and imagination, as he recounts his 12-day journey through puberty, his ‘marriage’ to a fellow patient, mid-life crisis at 45 and ultimate realisation (aged 100) that life is “just a loan”. Particularly effective is the depiction of the boy’s troubled relationship with his parents, and its final resolution as his new friendship helps him to see the situation from their perspective. Perhaps even more memorable is the powerful relationship between young boy and old woman, which is both touching and convincing.
By the end of the book, we realise quite how much they have each learned from their friendship, while in the process enjoying sharing a mutual dry sense of humour and a refreshing openness and candour. This is a book which – rightly – does not try to answer all the questions it raises, but as Oscar says “there’s no solution to life except to live it.”