Monday, February 28, 2011

The Tapestry of Love

In one of the most gracious moves ever made by an author, Rosy Thornton responded to my lackluster review of one of her earlier novels, Crossed Wires, by sending me an email in which she offered to send me her newer one, The Tapestry of Love.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that such an offer, followed by the receipt of the book directly from Cambridge (with a nice note), did predispose me to give the book every benefit of the doubt. So when I say I liked it, that will come as no surprise. But there's also a reason I would be predisposed to dislike it. Let me tell you a bit of a story.

Once there was a young mother who had reached a stumbling block in her academic career and was staying home with two preschoolers.  She had a friend who would pass on bags full of paperback romance novels brought to her by her mother.  Every couple of weeks, this friend would bring over a new bag of books.  The young mother didn't have to dress the preschoolers, (who were often nebulizer-sucking sick), get them in carseats, and take them to the library.  She didn't have to worry about when the books were due.  She could read for ten minutes, dog-ear the page rather than scrambling for a bookmark, and answer the next pressing preschooler need.  A fast reader, the young mother read almost all the books she was brought, passing over only the occasional title with a half-naked Scots warrior on the front.  At least a third of the paperback romances she read featured a divorced woman who moves to a new place, starts her own business--usually a restaurant, a bakery, or a catering service--makes good friends very quickly and easily from among her new neighbors and clients, and falls in love with a man who truly appreciates her talents.  The young mother got very tired of this formula.

Okay, fast forward to this same mother, years later, getting a novel in which a divorced woman moves to a new place (the Cevennes mountains, in France), starts her own business (sewing and upholstery--a change from the cooking, at least), makes good friends very quickly from among her neighbors and clients, and falls in love with a man who appreciates her talents so much he buys and frames something she sewed.  I think you're now aware of why I might be predisposed to dislike this novel.

But I didn't.  Putting both my predispositions aside, I enjoyed the writing style and got immersed in the story, pretty much from the point where the main character, Catherine, who has moved to the Cevennes, is talking on the phone to her daughter Lexie, in England, and Lexie says to her:
"I know what the trouble is....Completely understandable, you poor thing. All very scenic over there and everything but naturally you're missing me."
Since this is almost exactly what I think my own daughter would say to me in similar circumstances, I started identifying with Catherine.

In fact, Catherine is almost completely happy with her own company and her sewing.  Even though I'd personally rather do almost anything than be made to sew, the appeal of it for Catherine is clear to me:
"As she started to stitch....She saw it all clearly, translated into the colors of silk. It was funny how, even as a child, she had been able to visualise a picture or pattern as soon as she began to sew; she had only to begin and the image would emerge, a template for her to follow, like the outline that forms on closed lids after staring at something too long."

It's amusing to watch Catherine adapt to rural life, especially in terms of eating locally.  The first time she is offered a dish of fresh wild boar, she "stared at him; she had a horror of killing in the raw. She was no vegetarian, but she preferred her meat without its claws."  The dish is delicious, of course, and she asks for the recipe.  Later, when she smells lamb cooking after a day spent helping herd a neighbor's sheep to summer pastures, she asks "Is it traditional....Sheep farmers who've walked all day with their flock, keeping them safely on the path, then when they stop for the night, dining enjoyably on a nice piece of mutton. It's a little close to home, don't you think?  The matter-of-fact answering question, from the local man she fancies, is "What better than food that transports itself?"

I love the part where Catherine's neighbor Madame Bouschet tells her a story about how hard her husband Augustin has always worked, even on vacation, because it sounds like what my friends always say about our sand castle projects at the beach:
"You should have seen him...with his trousers rolled up to the knee, digging holes in the sand. Jean-Marc wanted him to dig a hole as deep as the well at home, and he was at it a whole morning. I said to him, when the children were in bed, I said, it's typical of you. Supposed to be on holiday, and here you are, digging like it's time to lift the potatoes."

There is sadness in this story but it too is well-described. I particularly like the simile Catherine uses to describe how she felt when her mother died after spending years in a nursing home:
"I don't mean it was a surprise, because it wasn't. I didn't feel surprised, in my mind. What caught me unawares wasn't the fact of her dying, but the force of it. The physical impact, if that makes any sense.
Like standing ankle deep in the surf and knowing full well a cold wave is going to hit you, but the knowledge doesn't lessen the brunt of its strike."

And finally, you can't beat this novel for a happy ending. The local man turns out to have been wildly in love with her all along, and he finally has the sense to say it to her:
"When you ate my wild boar with such delicious reluctance. I fell at once. I have been quite enslaved."
If you're going to use a romance novel plot, you might as well do the romance part right. But there are other good parts to this novel, and I enjoyed them all.  It's like one of the wonderful French casseroles it describes, full of unexpected ingredients that end up better in combination than I could ever have hoped.

So who will like this book? Women, particularly women over 30. Anyone who wants a good story with lots of descriptions of French food in it--I got some of the same pleasure from reading The Tapestry of Love that I always get from rereading Peter Mayle's books about Provence.  Anyone who loves France and is curious about what life is like in the donkey-trodden Parc National des Cevennes.


Carol Schumacher said...

Sounds like fun! I have been yearning for brainless, undemanding but fun books to read. Maybe I should try this one. (Of course, I downloaded two audio books and two books for my Kindle, in this very vein, so I might be overloading.) And I do like the story of the gracious author!

Kristen said...

I'm so glad you liked this one. I really liked it a lot and will still, someday, get around to posting my review of it too.

Amanda said...

Glad to hear you liked this one despite disliking Crossed Wires and the other prejudices going in. I didn't like it as much as Crossed Wires, but still really enjoyed it. Interestingly, I recently tried to read Thornton's first two books and neither really worked for me. The writing was good, but the stories didn't capture me. The later two are two of my favorites, though.

Unknown said...

So, this is a trial comment. Did you know blogger isn't just asking for a name and email or suchlike from potential commenters, it is only accepting comments from users with a google account? I never use mine so I had to dig up my password, but I'll see if it works...

Unknown said...

Yes, and it is under my husband's name apparently. Der Mann's cover is blown!! This is Trapunto, by the way.

Unknown said...

But as to Rosy Thornton: that is very gracious, how sweet. I would read her just for a making a move like that, but Tapestry of Love was already on my list after the Bookgazing review.

I often love books that lovingly describe (as long as they also do it knowledgeably) sewing and textiles. I find sewing on a machine very tiring, but I love the ingredients and the results. I suppose it is a little bit like reading about fantastic meals without having to cook them, it makes sense that sewing descriptions would come in a book that also has food descriptions.

So, you don't dogear any books that aren't mass-market paperbacks?

Jeanne said...

Carol, You can borrow it if you promise not to smudge Rosy's note, which I've taped to the inside front cover.

Kristen, I'll be watching to see what you have to say!

Amanda, It does seem natural, at least to me, to find that most authors get better the longer they write.

Trapunto, der mann's account isn't available, so only his first name is out. Comment here (this includes anyone) if you think I should go back to allowing anonymous comments, or else send me an email. I can delete, delete, delete the spam; it was just taking more and more of my day.

Trapunto, Rosy once said in an interview that she thinks of writing as communication, and she puts her money where her mouth is.

If you like needlework (I tend to lump it all under the term "sewing" which is probably wildly inaccurate), then you probably would like this book.

In fact, I do dogear books if I own them. I'm not a collector of books; I think of myself more as a user. But I tend to be fairly careful with pages, generally sticking a scrap of paper in as a bookmark rather than turning down a corner in a big enough way I can find it easily later, because that can make a triangle of the page come off when the book ages. It only takes a few missing parts of pages like that to make someone who rereads a lot start to pay attention.

Jenners said...

I'm glad that this worked for you and you and Ms. Thornton are back in sync. I could definitely see this as being very very appealing to women.

Jodie said...

That was such a classy move by her and a big contrast to the way some authors interact with bloggers.

The passage you highlighted about Catherine's needlework is one of my favourites, because it makes one kind of creative process so easy to understand. I also liked the bit where she's working a scene, but she says she can't use the right colour for the sky because (something like) in nature it's beautiful, but if you transpose it to art it looks sentimental and unrealistic.

Jeanne said...

Jenners, so far I do think her novels are written primarily for women.

Jodie, that is a good passage about the color looking sentimental and unrealistic in art.

If you haven't seen the interview in which Rosy talks about writing as communication, you should take a look at it:

Unknown said...

Is there a Blogger option for disallowing anonymous comments, yet still allowing people with URL to other blogging services like Wordpress and Typepad to comment? Or to simply require a functioning email address, yet without requiring that they currently be signed in to their google account?

I never get spam, so I don't know what is required to stop it. I ask for an email address from my commenters, and that seems to work for me, but then I am small potatoes. By all means, save yourself the hassle of spam however you need to!

Care said...

I almost didn't read this review because JUST THIS VERY MORNING (sorry for the shouting) I decided this book is the next one I will read! I did go on to read your review and have yet to open the book but it's on the ready and I am looking forward to it.
Happy snow melting and yard showing!

Jeanne said...

Trapunto, I tried adjusting it so anyone with "open ID" can comment.

Y'all let me know how that works for you!

Care, I'll be interested to see what you think of it, especially as I feel like I'm an easy mark for anyone describing French food!

Care said...

Hmmm, even tho, back in March I said this was my next book to read - I wonder what derailed me? Anyway, it was read at the perfect time for me. I'm going to link to your review in mine.

Jeanne said...

And see, Care, you did react to the food description!