11th Nov 2010
The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton
Rosy Thornton‘s fourth novel worried me slightly before I’d even opened it. As an admirer of her previous work, I’d always been impressed by how she addressed serious issues – the role and structure of higher education in Hearts and Minds, and the effectiveness of grassroots activism in More Than Love Letters – in the context of very entertaining and accessible fiction. In both books she’d clearly drawn successfully on her own day job as a legal academic.
The Tapestry of Love, however, appeared to be cut from a different cloth altogether. The bland title and cover design of a chocolate box cottage suggested a softer, more explicitly romantic work.
I was ready for a variation on Katie Fforde, perhaps with a smattering of Peter Mayle style rustic foreign charm thrown in for good measure.
The book’s opening does nothing to dispel this idea, introducing us to recently divorced Catherine Parkstone as she takes possession of her new home in the French countryside.
Intending to establish a new life and to support herself through her tapestry and upholstery, Catherine gradually meets the other residents of the Parc National including the enigmatically rugged-yet-sophisticated Patrick Castagnol, who makes immaculate casseroles while sexily quoting poetry.
However, while she can write gruff but lovable farmers and descriptions of market day with the best of them, Thornton is casting a much wider net. With the convincingly human and likeable Catherine at its centre, the book’s scope expands to cover a wide range of experience.
Relationships with neighbours, parents, children, sisters, lovers and even ex-husbands are all touched upon with a sure feeling for real affection in all its messy complexity. There is romance here, but it’s presented as part and parcel of a broader look at the many different currents of emotional connection which make up everyone’s lives. Although it’s not the subtlest of metaphors, Thornton fully justifies her title.
With its expansive and generous characterisation and detailed evocative prose, this is Rosy Thornton’s best and most rounded book so far. She even manages to work in some of her trademark dissection of social issues with discreet but sharp criticism of French rural development policy; it might not be the most immediate of issues but it’s well handled and might just move you to write to Nicolas Sarkozy.
Something, then, for everyone in this excellent novel and a lesson for me about literary prejudice. What was the phrase about books and their covers?
The Tapestry of Love was published last month, and is available from Amazon for £5.99.