Forty-eight year old divorcee Catherine Parkstone sells her house in England and moves to a very isolated spot in the middle of a national park in the Cévennes mountains in France. Her plan is to work on tapestries and other needlework and perhaps open a business for those who need drapes, upholstery, curtains and the like.
Catherine becomes friends with her neighbors, including a reclusive and fascinating man that speaks perfect English, Patrick Castagnol. She finds herself attracted to him, but puts all that aside when her younger sister Bryony comes to visit and has an affair with him. [Thinking also of the infamous Briony of Atonement, I’m starting to get the idea that it’s not such a great idea in the U.K. to have a younger sister by that name.]
The sororal interregnum aside, there is never any doubt what the outcome of this book will be. And while we wait for the inevitable, Thornton shares her love affair with us of the Cévennes, in all of its manifestations in each season and each change of light, and of her desire to capture its beauty in her art:
“Over the last few weeks, since perhaps the middle of April, Catherine had watched the mountain pastures explode with life. This was turf which had never known the application of a chemical, and although there were grasses here, they were no more than a canvas on which were splashed a profusion of other colours: purple scabious and yellow gentian and lungwort speckled blue and pink, and many other wild flowers which Catherine could not identify. And butterflies: the whole surface of the pasture in the afternoon sunshine danced and bobbed with butterflies, white and yellow and brown, and tiny ones of a startling blue. Catherine half closed her eyelids and saw it in silks.”
There are many such descriptions of the surroundings in this book.
Evaluation: Like her previous book, Crossed Wires, there are suggestions of “Sleepless in Seattle,” but this book is not only about a love affair with a person; it is also – and perhaps more so – about the love the character develops for the setting, and the simple, sincere, and good-hearted souls who populate the small mountain area. When she first arrives, one of the residents looks at her and says, “You’re not from here.” By the end of the book, she has become barely distinguishable from the others. The tapestry she weaves of the view she sees out her window is truly a tapestry of love.
Published by Headline Review, 2010