The Tapestry of Love, Rosy Thornton, Headline Review, 2010
Confession: I am a sucker for a book set in the south of France. I have never been there, except as an armchair traveller. But every time I have (Kate Mosse's Labyrinth and Sepulchre, and Rose Tremain's Trespass come to mind) I have been absolutely drawn to what must be very compelling and dramatic scenery. Now add the lovely novel The Tapestry of Love, by Rosy Thornton, to a collection that sparks my travel desires.
In The Tapestry of Love, Catherine, a divorced Britishwoman, with grown children and an aging mother back in England, pursues her dream of settling in the mountainous Cévannes. She purchases an old farmhouse and starts up a business as a tapestry needleworker and seamstress.
This is a quiet but engaging novel. The plot develops gently, as if reflecting the slower pace of life and friendships in the French countryside. The book explores what it is to be woman of Catherine's age starting over on her own, finding her place in a new community and culture, with the cautious local rituals of hospitality and friendship. The plot thickens considerably when Catherine's sister Bryony comes to visit and initiates a relationship with Catherine's neighbor, Patrick. Catherine grapples with jealousy and its impact not only on her relationships with her sister and neighbor, but also on her sense of self, the process of discovery, and the feeling of ownership of the new place she is coming to call home. Leaping over much of the plot so as not to spoil it for you, events eventually force Catherine to carefully consider what calls her to a place, and to make a conscious choice about where she will call home.
Thornton's wonderfully sensory descriptions of the landscape, the towns, the houses and farms, and the food are extremely appealing, as are the way she weaves local traditions into the plot and character development. There are some very poignant moments, such as Catherine's finally breaking through and being fully accepted by her neighbor - expressed with gestures so simple as giving a gift of honey and exchanging first names. If I had any quibble with the book, it was perhaps only around the Patrick/Bryony/Catherine conclusion (let's just say everyone is remarkably mature about it all). But it's a small quibble, as Thornton makes it completely work for the story.
All in all, The Tapestry of Love was a very enjoyable and transporting read, definitely recommended for anyone who would enjoy spending a quiet afternoon dreaming of the French countryside.
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A complimentary copy of The Tapestry of Love was provided to me by the author, Rosy Thornton. All opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.