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The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton is a novel about Catherine, an Englishwoman who decides to up sticks and move to the Cévennes region of France. She is divorced and her children have left home, so what does she have to lose? Well, potentially everything, both material and in terms of her pride.
Moving abroad is one of those romantic notions that most of us have at one point. Who hasn't sat in the sun on holiday in France, Spain, Italy, or some other warm and relaxing place thinking this life would be nice? As a result, there are lots of novels out there about Brits moving abroad, the pitfalls involved and generally a happy ending perhaps including some romance. There are also plenty of accounts from people who have actually done it - Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence being the best known.
So the question here is, can Rosy Thornton add anything to this slightly overdone sub-genre? Or perhaps it would be better to say, can she hold her own alongside her many predecessors? The first point to make would be that she has written about a region which has not been covered hundreds of times before. I have never heard of the Cévennes, and I'm a French-speaker who devours travel books. A good start I would say, to pick an area which we don't already know everything about.
A second good point is her choice of main character. Catherine is older than the usual young and romantically inclined girls we meet in these novels. She has already lived one life and is ready for another. Catherine is practically minded, and her focus is on becoming part of the community and establishing her business, not chasing Frenchmen around the beautiful landscape. There is romance in the novel of course, but it is subtle and well balanced with the other elements of the story.
Thornton's style of writing is also more intelligent than the standard chick-lit novels about moving abroad. Catherine is a needleworker, not a PR executive or magazine writer as many lead characters are. Thornton does not simplify her language for the reader, although at times it feels as if she is trying too hard to make her writing sound intelligent.
On the subject of sounding intelligent, Catherine is clearly a bright woman. However, it takes a long time to learn her backstory, and even when we do there are still gaps. One which stood out for me is why does Catherine speak French well? This is the kind of information I like to know about characters. From what I understand, she hasn't visited France since she was young on family holidays. We learn she had intended to study languages at university but didn't take up her place. On the surface she has the same schoolgirl French as her sister, who we know isn't very good - both are in their forties, so school was some time ago. So why does Catherine speak good French on her arrival in the Cévennes? I'm not saying there is any reason for her not to speak the language well, but I'd like to know where or when she learned it. It's a bit of an information gap.
The Tapestry of Love is a pleasantly enjoyable novel, a relaxing read. However, it will not be for everyone: the story is slow, and there is little excitement. It is more of an account of Catherine's experiences than a series of events leading to a climax. There are events and there is a proper ending once everything is resolved, but it's very subtle and gentle, and I suspect a novel like this may not be too popular when there are more exciting options. Even most chick-lit has more action than The Tapestry of Love. That's not to say it's not a good read, it is, and I would recommend it, but I expect many will not find it eventful enough to hold their attention.
This review was first published under my username on www.curiousbookfans.co.uk, and a review copy of the book was recieved from the publisher through Curious Book Fans.