Time for another post in my occasional feature, From the Vaults, and this one was prompted by something really rather lovely. I’m a great fan of the lovely writing of Rosy Thornton, and I was delighted to hear – via Book Connectors – that a new book, Sandlands, will be published by Sandstone Press on 21st July (available for pre-order). It’s a collection of linked short stories, all set in and around one Suffolk village – some of the stories are ghostly, some sad, one or two are darkly funny, and all explore in one way or another how the past of a place can still resonate in the present. I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing it, and sharing a conversation with Rosy on Being Anne.
If Rosy Thornton’s name isn’t familiar to you, it really should be – she’s written several books I’ve really loved, and I thought it might be rather good to revisit some of my “before the blog” reviews. I discovered Rosy’s writing through The Tapestry Of Love, then went in search of her earlier books – as you do when you find an author you love – so I’m presenting them in the order in which I read them. Here they are, with current Amazon buying links.
The Tapestry of Love (Published and read in 2010)
A warm and uplifting story of how a woman falls in love with a place and its people: a landscape, a community and a fragile way of life.
A rural idyll: that’s what Catherine is seeking when she sells her house in England and moves to a tiny hamlet in the Cévennes mountains. With her divorce in the past and her children grown, she is free to make a new start, and her dream is to set up in business as a seamstress. But this is a harsh and lonely place when you’re no longer just here on holiday. There is French bureaucracy to contend with, not to mention the mountain weather, and the reserve of her neighbours, including the intriguing Patrick Castagnol. And that’s before the arrival of Catherine’s sister, Bryony…
What a lovely little pleasure this book was – like having a warm bath and cuddling up in your pyjamas! The Cevennes mountains and their nature and life is vividly described, as Catherine captures it in her tapestries, and you share her joy at the dipper in the river and the family of wild boar. You plant her vegetables with her and nurture them, you share her concern when a neighbour brings her a swarm of bees, you want to fight alongside her as she tries to set up her business while battling French bureaucracy… and you laugh and cry with her as she gets closer to her wonderful elderly neighbours. But this is fiction, so there’s also the enigmatic Patrick Castagnol with the mysterious past and the culinary skills of Novelli – ooh, there’s a lot of wonderful food and drink in this book too – and the sister Bryony who seriously gets in the way. Really loved it… no clever stuff, not even any time slipping, just a pleasure of a read…
More Than Love Letters (Published 2007, reviewed 2011)
When Richard Slater receives a letter of complaint from one of his constituents, a Margaret Hayton, he merely responds with his standard letter of empty promises. Clearly, this woman is insane and must be avoided at all costs. But she will not be dismissed so easily, and when Richard finally sets eyes on the “twenty-something vision in stone-washed denim,” he risks losing his heart, his head, and quite possibly his political career.
I loved The Tapestry of Love, but this wonderful book has now made Rosy Thornton one of my very favourite authors. I wasn’t too sure about the format to start with, but this is such a clever, witty and enjoyable book and it soon turns quite unputdownable. There’s laugh out loud moments, but there’s tearful parts too, and it tackles some quite meaty issues in a really original way. I particularly loved the scene on the streets of London with the parrot… but this is a book full of wonderful moments you need to discover for yourself!
Crossed Wires (Published 2009, reviewed 2011)
When a 38-year-old university professor crashes his Land Rover into a tree in order to avoid killing a cat, he doesn’t expect much sympathy. Certainly not from 27-year-old Mina from the call centre where his accident insurance phone call goes through to. But there’s an immediate connection and before long they’re talking like old friends.
This is yet another lovely book by Rosy Thornton, a simple little tale, beautifully told, of two struggling single parents who strike up an unexpected long-distance friendship. She writes really gently and beautifully, giving you an overall sense of comfort and domesticity while handling some quite difficult issues like those faced by the traveller community, and loneliness and companionship in its many guises (Peter has a lovely gay pair of male friends that I’d rather like for my friends too…). Beautiful writing, lovely reading.
Hearts and Minds (Published 2008, reviewed 2011)
While it’s not easy being a woman in a man’s world, James Rycarte has decided that the reverse is also true. Taking on the job of principal at an all-female college at Cambridge has quickly become the biggest challenge of his career. He is breaking with tradition and the faculty is unhappy with the results. But amid the hostility of his fellows and the endless bureaucracy of university life, he finds an unexpected hand of friendship from Senior Tutor Dr. Martha Pearce.
Other than the beautiful one for The Tapestry of Love, Rosy Thornton really isn’t well represented by her covers – other than the bicycle + mortarboard (and I guess the Cambridge bicycle…) this looks like a bit of chick lit fluff you’d bypass on the shelves. And what a loss that would be!
I know little about Cambridge colleges – things were never like this at Hull – but the world she describes has masses in common with any large workplace (I know – I’m a Civil Servant…). The author’s strength is in creating characters that leap off the page, making you really care about them and their day-to-day lives.
Here we have James Rycarte, Martha Pearce and Maynard the cat (he’s wonderful…) and a cast of supporting characters who equally live and breathe. Who’d’ve thought academic politics could engage you so much – and the “real lives” of the characters give the writing a real depth and warmth that other authors find difficult to achieve. I’ve rarely come across an author whose output is so varied yet universally enjoyable.
Ninepins (Published 2012)
Deep in the Cambridgeshire fens, Laura is living alone with her 12-year-old daughter Beth, in the old tollhouse known as Ninepins. She’s in the habit of renting out the pumphouse, once a fen drainage station, to students, but this year she’s been persuaded to take in 17-year-old Willow, a care-leaver with a dubious past, on the recommendation of her social worker, Vince.
Is Willow dangerous or just vulnerable? It’s possible she was once guilty of arson; her mother’s hippy life is gradually revealed as something more sinister; and Beth is in trouble at school and out of it. Laura’s carefully ordered world seems to be getting out of control. With the tension of a thriller, Ninepins explores the idea of family, and the volatile and changing relationships between mothers and daughters, in a landscape that is beautiful but – as they all discover – perilous.
And now I’m going to let you all down terribly – I just can’t find my review of this one anywhere! I still remember enjoying it very much, a totally absorbing story, and I can still see the brooding fenland landscape… ah well, I guess Amazon has some excellent reviews.
There’s been much focus recently on quiet books – Rosy Thornton is one of the very best quiet authors I know. I’m so looking forward to Sandlands…
Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published originally by Headline Review and more recently by Sandstone Press. In her novels and short stories she enjoys exploring family relationships (especially mothers and daughters), and the way people relate to place and landscape. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner and two lunatic spaniels.
Visit her website at http://www.rosythornton.com.