There are very few times I can remember where I’ve actively prolonged reading a book by putting it down at intervals and resorting to other things, just to make it last. I couldn’t help myself with The Tapestry of Love, a new book by author Rosy Thornton. I sincerely tried to draw the experience out for as long as I could, but alas, all wonderful reads must come to an end.
The Tapestry of Love is Catherine Parkstone’s story. An Englishwoman set to begin her life anew in the Cevannes region of France, Catherine finds herself in the middle of her new town’s autumn transhumance, the moving of sheep from their summer grazing ground back to their home farms and enclosures; the exact opposite direction in which she is figuratively traveling. Leaving England behind, along with her son, daughter, ex-husband and her mother who is afflicted with dementia, Catherine moves to Le Grelaudière, and her new home, Les Fenils, set back in a rocky outcrop with few of the conveniences she’s left behind.
Usually, the lead protagonists in a novel are the main focus, but here, they share top billing with the house, the gardens, the weather, the woods, farms and animals and even the mountains themselves. I could perfectly envision Catherine’s new surroundings as if I had moved into Les Fenils as well, working beside Catherine in her new garden or handing her the thread and needles as she tries to establish her new business.
The secondary characters in the guise of neighbors add a whole different dimension to the story. We get to know each family’s back story as any new neighbor would; over time and over tea (and this being France, a little wine as well). Among these neighbors is Patrick Castagnol, with whom Catherine thinks she may have found a good friend and perhaps something more, until her sister Bryony comes to stay. This is the only point in the novel where I had some trouble understanding Catherine. She closes her eyes to the relationship between Bryony and Patrick, and she does not ask because she fears the answers. Why did she not fight for Patrick? What is it about her relationship with her sister that causes her to back off? When Patrick makes clear to Bryony that there are things in his life that he will not share, she goes back to England, leaving the way clear for Catherine and Patrick to find each other again, or not.
The story is ultimately about one woman’s growth in mid-life, a time when some women are settled, and all they are is all they will ever be. We read about Catherine’s struggles with a new country, a different language, customs and regulations, including a light-hearted tutorial on French bureaucracy and the problem of dealing with the establishment of a non-agricultural business in a National Park and the effects on that park’s population (which I found personally fascinating). The twice yearly transhumance is a metaphor for Catherine’s new life, as is her decision to take on the restoration of a medieval tapestry. She takes on this challenge as she has almost every challenge since her move to France, and masters it as she does her new environment, creating something worthwhile where before there was nothing. It’s positively inspiring as Catherine overcomes political and practical obstacles to complete her own transhumance.
Beautifully written, Rosy Thornton again delivers a story rich in detail, not only in its character development, but in setting as well. I was caught up in Catherine’s world, enough so that I too caught a whiff of jasmine on that hillside.
The Tapestry of Love is highly recommended. It is exactly what my father meant when he told me years ago, that reading a good book transports you to anywhere in the world. I did not want to come home.