Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Thornton, Rosy. The Tapestry of Love. London: Headline Review, 2010.

Before I took up blogging, which has managed to nearly double the number of books I read in any given year (odd how that works. You'd think that with spending time in the blogosphere, I'd have less time for books), I used to spend the months of October and November exclusively reading books of a supernatural or mysterious nature. I'd buy and save books throughout the year specifically for this purpose. That meant a total of 6-8 books, and I so looked forward to this "spooky" time of year. Two years ago, though, I realized that I was reading more like 6-8 books a month. By the time I got to Thanksgiving, I was sick of the supernatural and the mysterious. And that, my dear readers, was a travesty for this thrills-and-chills Halloween-lover! So, last year I got wise. I decided it was okay to spread my (vampire bat?) wings a little in the fall, that I could just read more supernatural stuff throughout the year and not save so much for this time of year. Although I would still weight October and November with such fare, I would also read other non-spooky titles.

So, along came October 2010, and Bob and I were busy packing to go to Maine for 3 weeks. What was I busy packing? Edward Gorey's The Haunted Looking Glass, which is a collection of his favorite ghost stories (and a wonderful -- and wonderfully illustrated -- little read, for anyone who's interested) was first, followed by Tana French's The Likeness, Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, and David Markson's Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat. Bob was bringing along Dan Simmons's The Terror, which I figured I was sure I'd be told "You must read!" (I figured correctly.) It doesn't look like I was doing a very good job of tempering my supernatural/mysterious reading in October. I knew I would need to do so, though. What would be a good antidote to all this heart racing material? And then I remembered I had the perfect thing. Rosy Thornton had very kindly sent me a copy of her latest novel to read and review.

Two years ago, when Bob and I were on our first three-week stint in Maine, I had read Thornton's Hearts and Minds and loved it. It was the perfect thing to read by the fire after a long day of hiking. Back then, we'd only had one or two fires, because we'd gone up in early September. This year, arriving during the fall peak, we were sure to have plenty of fires.

The Tapestry of Love is very different from Hearts and Minds. Nevertheless, Thornton's gentle wisdom, empathetic nature, and sense of humor, as well as her awareness of how complicated humans and their relationships are, shine through as much here as they did there. If you're someone who's ever gone off to live in a different country, you will appreciate this book about a woman in her late forties who decides to leave England for the France of her childhood holidays and settle there. But even if you've never done so, you can still laugh at the subtle misunderstandings, the difficulties of dealing with a bureaucracy that is probably no worse than your own familiar one but is more difficult in its being foreign.

Catherine, the heroine of the novel; with the exception of being someone who enjoys sewing and needlework and tapestry so much that she goes about setting up her own business doing so in this small, rural, French community; is a woman after my own heart. She lives in a place where, if she is patient (and lucky), she gets to observe a family of wild boars...

"...gathered one by one at the stream to drink. First the sow and then her young -- five, six, seven of them -- jostled forward and lowered their snouts to the water. The mother was a hefty size, much bigger than Catherine had imagined; three feet tall to the shoulder and maybe five feet long, she must weigh in at fourteen or fifteen stone...The piglets were small; she guessed they could be no more than a few weeks old." (p. 225)

(I loved that scene. Catherine had been missing the wild boars throughout the book, and what a treat when she finally sees them.)

She's been divorced for years. Her children are now grown and on their own, and she sets out to fulfill a dream. She's a loner at heart, someone who has no problem with isolation in a beautiful setting (I could certainly relate to that while reading this in Maine). Nonetheless, she surprises herself by becoming very attached to her neighbors. That's not all. There's even a little romance, a mature romance at that, although not without its moments of insecurity, common to all romance whether mature or not.

I expected cozy from this book. What I didn't expect was a connection and an odd sort of comfort just when I needed it. While I was in the midst of reading this book, my college roommate, one of my dearest friends, called to tell me her mother had died. This is the first of one of my long-time friends to lose her mother, and it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. My friend and I cried on the phone together, and I wished so badly that I could be with her to hug her.

In the book, Catherine's mother dies, not unexpectedly, really. I found a real solace in the way Thornton so poignantly described that event and its effects. She wasn't maudlin. She wasn't over-the-top. She was just right in her approach, handling awkwardness and sorrow and regret in just the right measures.

This is a book that will tempt you to sell everything and go live in France. Thornton makes the landscape, the way of life, and the people all so tantalizing. You will also be inspired to cook (or at least to eat). Food (of course. We're in France) is always being served and eaten; not just food, but delicious food, even when I wasn't sure I knew exactly what it was, it all sounded like something I must try. Ultimately, just as I thought, it's a perfect book to curl up with by the fire, after a long day of hiking. I also highly recommend it as an accompaniment to a long, hot bath.


Smithereens said...

Sorry to hear about your friend's loss. I've seen many good reviews about this book over the blogosphere but I'm wary about books set in France, i'm afraid of clichés à la Peter Mayle or A Year in the Merde. Certainly I wouldn't be selling everything to settle down in our countryside (although it's good for local economy!) Right now, whenever I want exotic comforting books, I look for novels set in Asia!

litlove said...

What a lovely review, and I also enjoyed it thoroughly. Smithereens needn't worry - this book is a million miles from Peter Mayle and his ilk.

Jodie said...

Just dropped by to say 'me too' about enjoying the wild boar scene. I've become a bit obsessed with those cute little wild boar piglets.

Emily Barton said...

Smithereens, I don't blame you for not wanting to read a book about France written from a foreigner's viewpoint. This one, though, is quite well done, I think.

Litlove, I haven't read Peter Mayle, but I imagine it is.

Jodie, it's easy to be obsessed over them, isn't it?

Rebecca H. said...

I'm so glad you liked this book! I really enjoyed it too -- it's the perfect kind of comfort reading, smart as well as comfortable.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, yes, "smart and comfortable" is how I'd describe it. I like that it was so different from her other one you leant me but still recognizable.