Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Tapestry of Love

When Rosy Thornton e.mailed me to ask if I would like a copy of her latest book, The Tapestry of Love, I had to think hard about it. I knew it was set in France and to tell the truth I avoid books set there like the plague. The reason? Well, a much loved sister-in-law and her husband moved there in the mid-nineties. It was a financial and healthwise disaster from start to finish, culminating in the husband dying of pancreatic cancer and my sister-in-law of a brain tumour two years later. This kind of thing is not conducive to good memories of a country. So I thought long and hard, decided that my sister-in-law would have said I was being a wimp and said 'yes please'.

The book begins with Catherine Parkstone arriving in France to start a new life. She's leaving behind two adult children in their twenties, a sister who's a lawyer and a mother with Alzheimers who lives in a home. Catherine is divorced, her husband having left her for a younger woman, although the couple are on reasonably good terms. Obviously this is a brand new start for Catherine whose plan is to settle into a newly bought house in a small (very) village in the Cévennes, a mountainous region of southern France. In order to make ends meet she plans to be a needlewoman, taking on soft furnishing jobs and taking commissions for her tapestries.

And that's it really. I don't want to give too many spoilers away but basically the story revolves around how she settles in and gets to know her neighbours. I loved this aspect of the book. I haven't been to the Cévennes, my sister-in-law lived first of all on the edge of the Dorgogne and then moved further north close to the Vendée. Her first house was in the middle of nowhere, but she did have farming neighbours just like the couple in this book. Everything was so familiar, their way of life, the markets, the giving of little gifts. It was startlingly accurate. When she moved to a small village she woke one morning to find another local farmer had been around and cut her grass with his machine without being asked, just as Catherine's neighbour did for her.

I absolutely adored the descriptions of the local area, the mountains, woods and valleys in particular. The author takes the time to give the reader a real feel for the area and by the sound of it it's absolutely stunning. I pinched this photo from the national park website:

Wow. It's every bit as beautiful as the book implies although I think the heat in the summer would give me personally real problems.

Other things I enoyed - how the author focusses on Catherine's needlework. I don't do much these days but I used to and it was wonderful to hear details of her work and how she went about each project, the threads and materials she used and the use to which each project was put. I found myself wanting photos!

So, all that said, what was I not too keen on? Answer, the romantic stuff.

A bit spoilery...
She gets involved with Patrick, a neighbour who is clearly interested in her too. And then he does something which I found myself very saddened by as by this time I really liked him. I couldn't forgive him for it, even at the end when he said why. In fact... his reasons only made it worse for me and if this were real life I would be worried for her. So did this ruin the book for me? No, certainly not. I like a book that makes me think and this made me ponder on the kind of behaviour some women accept from men and how, unless women stop doing this, the behaviour of - I should say - a *minority* of men, will never get any better. But that's just me... I haven't seen where anyone else was bothered by this and actually it makes the book a lot less predictable that it might otherwise have been. Plus, having strong feelings about certain aspects of a story is *never* a bad thing; in point of fact, it's a good author who can provoke reactions like this in my experience.

Anyway, my thanks to Rosy for allowing me to read her book for free. It's a terrific read... atmospheric with one of the best senses of place I've ever come across. Take it from me, this is the *real* France here, warts and all! I think I may even be over my aversion to books set in that country, though sadly I still have no wish to go back and visit.

I'll be quite happy to pass this one on to anyone else who would like to read and review it. Either e.mail me or leave a comment - I'll post anywhere in the world.

ETA: Book taken - winging its way to Texas as we speak.


Anonymous said...

A compelling review, Cath. I am impressed with your determination to read on, give it a try, in spite of your sad memories and agree, wholeheartedly, that it is those books the provoke reaction that are most often worth the read. We always have a good book discussion when I hear a member say she doesn't like a character or the ending or the subject matter.

fiction-books said...

Hi Cath,

What a fantastic, personal and heartfelt review...

This whole project sounds like it has been an emotional roller coaster for you, with the process obviously having stirred some sad and almost angry memories.

I get the feeling however,that despite the book evoking so much discussion and strong feeling, both good and bad, that you are glad that you persevered with it.

You were able to focus on the more positive aspects of the book being set in France, the fantastic scenery, the tranquillity of getting lost in needlework projects and the kindnesses of some, if not all, people.

I am longing to know just how Patrick took advantage of Catherine, but it was obviously, in your mind, quite horrendous, from what you said.

I too find it difficult to comprehend just what terrible treatment one person will accept from another, but whether from fear or from acceptance, they seem to keep taking it.

This sounds like a very thought provoking read, a definite for the TBR pile

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

I enjoyed this book too, although like you I wasn't too keen on the romantic stuff and I didn't like the Patrick situation. I found the detail of Catherine's mother's Altzheimers and the guilt she felt about the situation very moving - my mother-in-law suffered from dementia and it was heartbreaking.

I loved the descriptions and the way Rosy portrays relationships.

Kailana said...

Wow, that would cloud a persons view of a place... You wrote a very good review, though!

Cath said...

lifeonthecutoff: Thank you. In the end it wasn't so hard to read and actually brought back some good memories as well as a few sad ones. Well worth the effort and yes, you always get better discussion when the other person has issues with a book.

Yvonne: Thank you. It's odd how some books are so personal and others not. This one felt so close to my heart because of my own experiences I suppose. My sister-in-law was such a lovely person and didn't deserve what happened to her (not that 'anyone' does) and all of it is now associated with France in my head.

I wouldn't say 'horrendous' just sad. Shall we say it underlined the difference between the way men regard sexual intimacy, and women.

Margaret: I think the outcome of the Patrick situation underlines Catherine's forgiving nature more than anything else. Perhaps we should all be a bit more like that, I don't know.

Having been reminded strongly of my sister-in-law's time in France I'm not surprised that you were reminded of your mother-in-law's struggle with Alzheimers. I found that sad and touching so I'm sure you found it doubly so.

Kailana: Thank you. Some books just resonate strongly for all sorts of reasons and this was one of them.

Nan said...

Cath, the part that troubles you, bothers me as well. From what I've read though, this is a French point of view. Not anything I could ever live with. The joy of the book for me is that she doesn't sit around longing for him all the time. She continues with her own full, meaningful life, and takes him on her own terms sort of, if that makes any sense. I really did love the book. I wrote about it and if you'd like to read it you may go here:

As for the reminder of your own life situation - that is so, so sad. What a terrible outcome to something that must have begun with such hope. I am very sorry, Cath.

Cath said...

Nan: I think you're right that the French think differently about this to us. And yes, Catherine does take him on her won terms and good for her!

Thank you for your kind words. It was a very sad time for the whole family and was further complicated by another situation after the diagnosis of Jan's brain tumour, causing a family rift and making an awful situation even worse. Horrible.

Thanks for your link - I remembered that you were one of the people who read it but couldn't find your post. I'll go and read it now.

Susan said...

I read most of your review, just avoided the spoilery bits at the end since you know I have the book right here waiting to be read. I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much! despite the heartbreak that the real France holds for you. Since I can't seem to settle for anything right now, I might give this a try. I do want to read it very soon. Thanks for the review!!

Cath said...

Susan: I hope you manage to settle to a book soon. Right at this moment - I know the feeling - and am going for a bit of comfort reading for a few days. Can't wait for you to read this one as your reviews are always so interesting and I'd like to hear what you think.