Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton
Catherine Parkstone has achieved that enviable age where she is no longer immediately encumbered by her family, although unfortunately that includes her husband, from whom she is
– amicably enough - divorced. Seizing the opportunity for real change, she decides to move to the Cévennes where she will set up her own business as a needlewoman, making soft furnishings for income and needlepoint to feed the soul in the long evenings. Tentative first meetings with the neighbours turn into friendships and she is just starting to feel at home when her sister Bryony arrives to unsettle her again. I can fairly guarantee that you are going to want, very shortly, to bundle Bryony into a car and off to the airport, never to return (but a phone call at Christmas will be allowed, we want to support Catherine, not distress her). Families are a joy, aren't they? It's a good thing that Catherine's children are quite civilised and independent, although a worry to their mother at times. Her own mother is a cause for concern and some anguish, too. (A digression: I've commented before what a relief it is to read about interesting people who are past their thirties. I don't believe for a minute that authors think life ends at thirty, but publishers certainly seem to, which is crazy because we must be making up the majority of the book-buying public.) Anyway, Catherine rapidly becomes like an old friend to the reader - she's sensible, mature, she copes with loneliness without falling apart, she makes rational decisions - in short, she's good company, and the people she mixes with in her new home are pleasant and interesting too. It's refreshing, a story about people with generosity of spirit.
I'm fairly immune to the lures of the French idyll, but there's something in Thornton's writing that gets under the skin. There's a strong sense of place here, and of history of place: you are aware as you read of the continuity of care for the land, and of its past as hunting forest - a real evocation of the Cévennes countryside. Rosy has a website with pictures of the area, but her word paintings are so clear that you can imagine the house and surroundings and, even better, the rich harvest of delicious food made by Catherine and her neighbours (but just in case, like me, you are ready to start googling for recipes, she very kindly provides them on the website, too).
If I had a gripe, it would be that I wanted to know more of the detail about the work Catherine undertook. The descriptions are very satisfactory, you can certainly visualise the tapestries and other articles she produces, but I'd have enjoyed more of the everyday side of production, and more on the restoration of her house and garden, too. I quite accept that the book would have become unmanageably long were I to have my way, and that it's a wise author who knows what to leave out, but I was enjoying it so much that I could happily have spent twice as long with Catherine. As it was, I had to ration myself so as not to finish the book too quickly. I'm often wary of giving books as presents, mistrustful of my ability to judge what friends and relations will enjoy, but here's one I shall give this Christmas with confidence.