Susie Mesure

Philosophers in the cradle: Marigold and Rose, by Louise Glück, reviewed

Infant twin girls, in the first year of their lives, muse on everything from the futility of existence to the purpose of memory

[Alamy]

‘We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory,’ is how Louise Glück closes her poem ‘Nostos’. The same sentiment guides Marigold and Rose, the latest book by the 2020 Nobel Prize winner and the poet’s first to be deemed ‘a fiction’.

Marigold and Rose are babies – infant twin girls in the first year of their lives. They are also stand-ins for Glück’s own young granddaughters, not to mention for the author herself, in this piercing book in miniature that feels as if the former US Poet Laureate is mining her own preternatural memories to explore who she is.

‘I want experience to mean something,’ Glück has said, apparently even if that experience is lying in a cot leafing through an A-Z primer, which is where we meet Marigold, the younger twin. She is a writer – or would be if she knew any actual words and wasn’t a baby. Rose, in contrast, is a social being. ‘But we have inner lives, Rose thought.’

Marigold is anxious to be done with babyhood and hungers for knowledge, frustrated that the twins can’t ask questions. ‘They had to take what they could pick up, like pigeons in the public park.’ Things happen to them, problematic things, like their grandmother going to heaven, and worse:

It was also around this time that Mother began to talk about going back to work. She told Father that she wanted to contribute to the household. If you asked the twins (no one did) they would say that Mother contributed by being Mother. Father explained that to Mother this was different because mothers didn’t get paid and apparently people who got paid contributed and people who didn’t get paid were no help at all. The twins saw right through this.

Marigold in particular watches everything.

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