Wednesday, January 26, 2011
When Catherine leaves England to settle in the Cévennes mountains, she's hoping for a simple and rustic life. Surrounded by the dense woods and the idyllic mountains, her neighbors immediately adopt her into their community. From the older couple who share her land and help her with the maintenance of her property to the older widow who enlists Catherine to help her into town, Catherine is at once enveloped in France. But when she meets another neighbor, the handsome and mysterious Patrick, Catherine begins to question all she has known about attraction and love. As she settles in the beautiful French countryside, Catherine decides to become a self-employed business woman, weaving tapestries and working with fabrics on interior design. But there are some serious snafus when her sister Bryony comes to town for an extended getaway and is immediately enraptured by Patrick, and her interior design business hits a roadblock due to government restrictions. Just when Catherine thinks she's home free and that her feelings for Patrick have been quashed, the situation changes once again, leaving her more confused than ever. As the months roll by, Catherine becomes deeply involved in all aspects of rural life, from the ties to the locals, to her business, to the very perplexing feelings for Patrick that she can't seem to jettison, and discovers that life in this blissful and remote area is not only what her soul craves, but what her heart desires. Like the tapestries Catherine weaves, Thornton takes all the exquisite colors of the French countryside and Catherine's life, and creates a stunning representation of one woman's existence filled with the subtle dramas and grace that we all hope to capture in our own lives.
Sometimes I crave a good quiet read that renews my spirit and gives me things to contemplate. I had been reading many reviews of this book on the blogosphere and began to think it would be a great reading experience. When Rosy Thornton contacted me and asked me if I'd like a chance to review it, I snapped to attention and responded in the affirmative right away. The book didn't disappoint, and it was just the type of read that I could relax into like a hot bath during a time in my life that was rather stressful and worrying. As life was doing its best to turn my heart into a pretzel, I knew that I could have respite within these pages and I grew to love the time I spent with this story.
Catherine was a character whom I loved from the instant I began reading about her. She was so strong-willed, and no matter what disappointments were hanging over her head, she never gave in to self-pity and recrimination. Some of the things that she went through required a strong heart and a tough spirit, and Catherine had that in spades. When she meets Patrick for the first time, theirs is an electric attraction, and there's noting unrequited about her feelings for him. As he gently coaxes her into his life, Catherine begins to bloom like a rose under his ministrations. There was a lot of passion between these two people, but Thornton shares these revelations with a subdued and graceful hand, and the effect is one of total realism. Catherine is a woman in her middle age but her heart is no less moved or passionate than that of a younger woman at Patrick's tender behavior. When her sister Bryony comes into the picture and basically usurps Patrick, the tension Catherine experiences forces her to reexamine her feelings, not only for her sister, but for the man who has so enraptured her. She doesn't fret and whine about it though, and instead employs a great deal of patience and understanding, preferring to put Patrick and Bryony in the background and moving the other parts of her life into the foreground.
Another thing that was great about this book was its rustic appeal. I'm sort of a city girl, but I had not a bit of trouble appreciating the sections in which Catherine tends to her garden, or her forays into French cooking. I liked the quiet feel of the writing in these sections and it was constantly edifying to my soul to read about the wild mushrooms found in the woods and the elusive pack of wild boars that Catherine observes. There was something so charming and genteel about the life she was living out in the French countryside, and many times while reading I would drift off into daydreams about escaping the city to find solace in the woods and mountains. There was such a feeling of cohesion and peace within Catherine's life out there, and I found that a lot of these sections gave the book such charm. Reading about Catherine's day-to-day life in the Cévennes mountains made me at once feel relaxed and put me in a very peaceful frame of mind, which is something that I desperately needed.
The focus on the tapestries and Catherine's various other handicrafts was also something to be admired. I didn't know very much about this form of artistry before reading this book, but Thornton had a way of explaining everything so clearly that even a layperson could get caught up in it. Her descriptions of the work Catherine did and the dying and collecting of thread struck me as very knowledgeable, and I wondered many times if Thornton herself engaged in tapestry making, such was the level of expertise that she created in her story. I also liked that Catherine's artwork was so appreciated and sought after by the locals because so often crafts and art are things that are pursued and appreciated alone. The aspect of a single woman living in France and being such an expert needlewoman somehow appealed to some of my softer and more creative emotions. Often times, when one doesn't participate in a craft like this, reading about it can be alienating or just plain boring, which is something that Thornton very successfully escapes in her work.
I was so enthralled with this book and I think I read it at a perfect time in my life. The quietness and rustic qualities really spoke to me in a way that had a healing effect on me during a rough patch I was having, and I would be interested in re-reading this book at another time to examine other aspects of the story that Thornton so expertly crafted. It's a love story, yes, but also, and I think more importantly, a story about a woman who is strong, independent and wise, and who takes a chance on a life that not many of us will ever experience. I think this book would appeal to a lot of readers and it would be a great read to curl up with on a rainy afternoon. A great and gentle read. Recommended!
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
Posted by Zibilee at 8:00 AM