A new novel by Rosy Thornton is generally a cue for rejoicing in the blog world. On the one hand there are very few people who don’t appreciate the tender warmth of her writing, and on the other, we rather pride ourselves on discovering talent that is shamefully overlooked in the mainstream book world. Rosy Thornton really ought to be known to a much wider audience, but I think this omission is due to the tedious but inevitable categorization process that guides marketing departments. On paper, her books are classified as romances, and on one level they are. But I think they have an ethical depth to them that transcends genre, in which her characters are continually pondering what constitutes a good life, how virtue might be made livable, how to reconcile urgent personal desires with the sacrifices demanded by children, work and the wider family. Her latest novel, The Tapestry of Love, is no different.
This is the story of Catherine Parkstone, divorced for some time now, with children who have grown and are embarking on their own lives. Recognising this for the last chance it is, Catherine decides to make a life-changing move to the Cévennes area in France, a beautiful, remote mountainous region that she knows from childhood holidays. Once there, she has a plan to set up a business dealing in soft furnishings, tapestry in particular. Of course, this move does not go smoothly at first: it rains, a lot. The people are kind but insular, the administrative requirements for her business are complex, and then there are all those once-fierce attachments she has left behind. Her son and daughter (the latter in particular carving a hilarious career path through the specialist interest journals) and her mother, now confined to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. Like all women who have been the lynch pin of a family, Catherine has to work at adjusting to their reduced need of her, and the fear that moving away might distance her from what loving relationships remain. Also, and significantly, there is one neighbour who appeals to her particularly, the elusive and (naturally) enigmatic Patrick Castagnol, with his cultured tastes and inexplicably good English. Just as Catherine’s friendship with him looks like it might assume a different hue, her sister, high-powered lawyer Bryony, turns up for a holiday and steps lightly but firmly into the one opening for romantic interest. And Catherine, used to putting the desires of others before her own, stands aside and lets her.
There are two preoccupations in this delicate novel that stand out in particular. The first is the exquisite nature writing that brings France alive on every page. I don’t recommend you pick up this book if you have a deep hankering to move to the south of France because you’ll find you’ve booked a ticket before the end is reached. Catherine is an observer, a practiced witness to lives that are more vivacious than her own, and her profound attention to the consoling beauty of the world around her is completely convincing. But at the same time, this attentiveness to the natural world has another purpose, in that it emphasizes the cycle of life in which all the characters are trapped. I found this to be the most poignant of Rosy’s books so far, the one most concerned with loss and how it might not perhaps be managed, but eventually accepted, or soothed with other distractions. The cycle of family life, with its need to find partners, to raise children, to let go of the adults they become as well as the parents who raised us in their time, is the underlying trajectory of the plot. Catherine is at the time of her life when there are too many goodbyes, and to add to that, she has chosen to leave her homeland and all its familiarity behind. But Catherine is a sensible, grounded woman, a woman whose work matters to her as much as her romantic life, a woman who knows what needs to be done and will do it, even if it requires unreasonable selflessness. And she is also a hopeful woman, one who believes without needing to say it, that tomorrow will bring fresh opportunities and new chances. Her resolute strength of character and her belief in the process of renewal carry her (and the reader) through adversity and to the optimistic ending you long for her to have.
There’s also a lot of wry humour in the book, about the French bureaucratic system (which deserves to have fun poked at it), and about sibling relationships. It’s a wonderful portrait of two sisters, and it was probably this relationship I appreciated most in the novel. There’s always a great core of strength at the heart of Rosy’s novels and this comes from her celebration of love over the false friends that are need, desire, lust and romance. Unlike other genre writers, who turn love into Sturm und Drang or emotional pyrotechnics, Rosy portrays love more realistically (and therefore surprisingly), as presence, awareness, mindfulness, and also as acceptance of people exactly as they are. This makes her books less outwardly dramatic than some, but reassuringly, resolutely real and immensely comforting. The Tapestry of Love is about the gentle warp and weft of relationships, the tracing of a thousand threads of attachment into patterns that please and console. In this way it’s a novel that leaves the romance genre some way behind, and deserves a categorization all of its own.
Your post is another example of why I love book bloggers. I should probably be ashamed to say I’ve never heard of Rosy Thornton until now. But then I hadn’t heard of Barbara Pym or Doris Lessing either. I’m quite certain it was either your blog or Stefanie’s that brought one or the other to my attention. And I’m grateful for that. So once again, I am enlightened.
Well, I’ve got this book and have just been trying to clear my plate of all others that I am in the midst of reading, so I can sink into it. I can tell by what you’ve described here that I am most definitely going to sink. Can’t wait!
I’ve only skimmed your post, as I have this on my own pile to read this weekend! I was happy to see that this novel is being published later this year here in the US. I couldn’t wait (actually didn’t realize that at the time) so I asked my library to order a copy of it for our collection, which they kindly did. Maybe publishing it here will add a few (well, hopefully many) more readers to her audience. I’ve heard many good things about this book and can’t wait to start it!
And here is my review over on random jottings
and, like you, I loved it. On the surface it seems a gentle light romance but it is much more than that. You have expressed yourself much more fully than I but hope that my post has shown how much I loved this book
I loved this book too, and every one of your observations is right on target.
I’ve never read anything by her but I’m going to look her up now, Litlove.
I also loved The Tapestry of Love. Rosy’s writing is glorious.
I just had a chance to read & review this as well and felt the same way — I really liked it, and it was my first Rosy Thornton novel!
I tend to like books such as this that can be read at more than one level, depending upon the reader’s mood and willingness to invest in it. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, as well — and like all tricks requiring exceptional skill, it always looks far simpler than it is.
Got my copy of this from Rosy and I keep finding reviews that love it. Always nice to find out a book you’re going to read really seems to be as good as you’d hoped.
I didn’t give this post a thorough reading because I’ll be getting the book soon myself and I want to read it without too many preconceptions. But yes, Thornton is someone to look forward to reading and bloggers here seem to be doing their best to make her better-known!
Great review. Loved this part: “Unlike other genre writers, who turn love into Sturm und Drang or emotional pyrotechnics, Rosy portrays love more realistically (and therefore surprisingly), as presence, awareness, mindfulness, and also as acceptance of people exactly as they are.”
I should print that out and put it on my board – presence, awareness, mindfulness and acceptance of people as they are.
High praise indeed, LL! I must confess I’d not heard of Rosy Thornton until this post… but your review serves, as others say, as an example of the excellent work book bloggers do in taking an author’s writing to a much broader audience than might have been possible only years ago. It sounds like PERFECT holiday reading, so I’ll endeavour to get hold of it before we have a fortnight’s baby-moon!
Grad – I cannot begin to list the authors who I had never heard of before I began blogging – and I was under the misapprehension that I was quite well read! But really, it’s a joy to have had my eyes opened and I’ve benefitted so much. I can see Rosy’s heroines being your sort of women, so she’s definitely worth a go, I think.
Emily – I love it when a plan comes together! That’s such a good feeling, to know a fine book is headed in one’s direction. 🙂
Danielle – I found it a really comforting read, not just a comfort read, if you see what I mean. I’d love to know what you make of it.
Elaine – I very much enjoyed reading your review of it, and yes, I think you expressed yourself wonderfully well about the novel!
Becca – yay! That makes me so happy to hear.
Lilian – I’d be interested to know what you make of her. I really enjoyed this book, but my personal favourite is Hearts and Minds (perhaps because it’s set in Cambridge and I really relate to the location!).
Charlotte – hurray! So very pleased that you loved it too!
Coffee and a book chick – welcome to the site and delighted that you enjoyed it! The good news is that Rosy is building up quite a back catalogue these days, so there are more of her novels to explore.
David – ain’t that the truth! Simplicity is always deceptive, at least in art it is. I am a big fan of the many-layered narrative as it allows me to get my little scalpel out and start digging around. Always a happy experience. 🙂
Jodie – I’ll be really interested to hear what you think of it, young thing that you are.
Dorothty – I’m fairly sure you read Hearts and Minds, didn’t you? I’m sure I remember your review… well, I will look forward very much to hearing what you have to say about this one!
Pete – I’m obsessed with the thought of love as presence at the moment. Not just being-there, but full, engaged, reality-checking, truth-dealing, compassionate presence. So I’m glad you liked that bit.
Doctordi – if you were going to check out Rosy Thornton, I would strongly suggest you try Hearts and Minds first. It’s my favourite of her books and set in a Cambridge college, a location she evokes with almost disturbing accuracy! But I have to say, the book I would most recommend to you out of my recent reads is The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. You may have read it already, but somehow I feel that it would be right up your alley.
No, I haven’t read The Night Watch – brilliant, thanks, LL – I’ll see if the library’s got it. Duly noted re. the Thornton, too- merci!
Sounds like another good one from Rosy! I liked Hearts and Minds quite a lot. I will be on the lookout for this one and make sure that all my means of getting to the south of France are made inaccessible.
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