It’s a simple story, the kind that has been told many times. A middle-aged woman finds that her children have grown, her husband is gone, and she has to set out on a new life. But of course it’s a story that happens so many times in so many lives, and there are so many different experiences, different journeys through life, that the story is different every time.
This particular story belongs to Catherine. She’s forty-eight, divorced for eight years, and on reasonable terms with her ex husband and his new love. Her son and daughter have both flown the nest and are building their own lives. So she sells her house and makes plans to move to France, to a small village in the Cevennes. And she plans to make a living as a needlewoman, selling her tapestries and her needlepoint.
It’s dream, but it’s a real possibility too. And it’s lovely watching Catherine as she settles into a very different way of life, and gradually and naturally settles into, becomes part of, the local community.
A simple story made rich as Catherine grows to love her surroundings, her rural lifestyle, her craft, all quite beautifully described. So many wonderful pictures of people, food, landscapes brought Catherine’s world to life.
A story made rich too because there is a very real understanding, and a very real acceptance of what life brings. That sounds so simple, but it’s rarer than it should be.
But Catherine is still a mother, a sister, a daughter. Her children and her sister visit, and they all have their influence on Catherine’s life. Those relationships are clearly and beautifully portrayed.
The relationship between Catherine and Bryony, two sisters who are very different women with such a close bond, who know each other, but maybe not quite as well as they think, is particularly well drawn. And it evolves as the story progresses, revealing more about each woman.
A few little details were wrong – the ease with which Catherine’s new career took off, the slightly clichéd picture of Bryony’s life as a London lawyer – but the big picture worked.
Her mother’s death calls Catherine home and pulls her family together. Battles with French bureaucracy make her wonder if he should take another path. But her home in the French mountains is still calling her …
There was just one weak link: I’m afraid that the inevitable romance didn’t quite work for me, and I felt at times that the plot and the characters were a little compromised to make that particular storyline work in a particular way.
But that might just have been the literary grit that made this book a pearl, stopped the story and the characters being too consistent. After all, lives don’t usually follow a regular pattern, they aren’t always neat, and sometimes people do things that are quite out of character.
What was important was that I believed in these people, and I cared about them.
A very real warmth, a very real understanding, a very real humanity carried the day.