Au revoir Brittany! Back to blogging!

Although it’s been a wonderful summer, it feels, as always, good to get back to my desk, to my computer and to my blog. I’ve had nearly 3 weeks ‘off’ – I use that term more because it is a general expression, not because I see it as any kind of chore. In truth, I have missed my blog! The reason I have posted so rarely is because I was a) doing so much reading, b) got totally sidetracked by a nearly impossible jigsaw puzzle at our holiday home (!), and c) was just having a great time with the family. When I wasn’t reading we were cooking, eating, talking, staring at the stars, a sight we are not so used to in our light-polluted Greater Manchester suburb, getting out and about, all the things you do on holiday, really. It’s been a fantastic break for all of us and we have all come back newly energised to face into the new academic year (it’s another big one for our family), ready to meet new challenges and set new goals.

974db1fd-e67b-4366-9e06-9cac492fef1b-1125-00000161832e76ce_fileI managed to read all three of the books I took on holiday with me, and enjoyed all of them immensely. They were Harvesting by Lisa Harding, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, the August choice for my Facebook Reading Challenge, and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I’ll be posting reviews of them over the next few weeks.

So before I launch into the ‘new year’ (I’ve posted here before that I find September a more effective time to start things than January), I would like to close off the summer with some pictures of beautiful Brittany. We stayed in Cancale, well-known for its oysters, something I eat maybe once every couple of years – twice in a fortnight is enough!

I loved Mont-St Michel, over the border in Normandy. It was absolutely thronged, but we arrived early afternoon and by 5pm the crowds had thinned significantly.

We visited beautiful Dinan, ‘town of history and art’, a couple of times and I loved it. One tip if you go there – don’t expect to be able to get lunch after 2pm!

Another favourite was Ile-de-Brehat, a wonderful island, just off the coast near Paimpoul. It’s tiny, rugged, and there are no cars. You can hike from one end to the other, or as we chose to do, cycle all the way round.

Finally, from my holiday photo album, recognise this?

2018-08-28 16.39.09

I was delighted to be able to visit St Malo, setting of Anthony Doerr’s wonderful novel All the Light You Cannot Seea truly beautiful town.

Have you ever visited Brittany or been to any of these wonderful places?

If you have enjoyed this post, please follow my blog. I mostly post book reviews, with a few other things scattered in between!

Book review: “The Lady and the Unicorn” by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier’s second novel Girl with a Pearl Earring was published in 1999 (really, it was that long ago!) and was a sensation. I remember reading it at the time and was bowled over. It was made into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in 2004. I’m afraid to say that I have not read any of Tracy’s subsequent work and until now would not have been able to name any of her nine other books (although I love the look of New Boy, published this summer, and recommended it just a few weeks ago).

The Lady & the Unicorn imgI picked up The Lady and the Unicorn at the secondhand book stall at my youngest daughter’s school summer fair and read a large chunk of it whilst there. It would not normally have caught my eye on a bookshelf as the cover is more suggestive of a cheap sexy romance (nothing wrong with that if that’s your thing!), but I was very quickly drawn into the world that Chevalier evokes, as she also did so brilliantly in Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The novel is set in Paris and Brussels in 1490-92. Parisian nobleman Jean Le Viste wants an impressive tapestry in his home, a way of showing off his wealth, status and fine taste. He commissions local artist Nicolas De Innocents to paint a design which will then be turned into a tapestry by specialist weavers in Brussels. The subsequent story is about Nicolas’s travels between the two cities, the time he spends in Brussels with the family of weavers and the effect the work has on all their lives.

It’s a very simple premise and you would be forgiven for wondering how a full-length novel could be strung-out from this. Like Girl with a Pearl Earring, it’s the characters, their motivations, their internal lives and the relationships between them that drive the narrative. Here, Nicolas des Innocents is the central figure. He is young, virile, charismatic and mischievous. In Paris, he threatens to destabilise the Le Viste family when the youngest daughter Claude falls for his charms (he has already seduced the maid!), but socially, he is an outsider, a class well below his employer, and thus it is important he is kept at arm’s length. In Brussels, he penetrates the family more deeply as he needs to work alongside the weavers to design the various features of the tapestry and to help realise these in the final product. Nicolas the charmer develops a close bond with the weaver’s blind daughter. I’ll leave it at that – no spoilers here!

The book is written from several perspectives, with each chapter narrated by different characters. This allows us as readers to observe the events of the story from a number of viewpoints. It’s a sexy novel, there are simmering passions throughout (to that extent the suggestive cover on my copy is not far wrong!). It provides an insight to the issues of the period – honour, social status, the role and standing of women, as well as the process of creating a tapestry and the meaning behind all the imagery – and Chevalier has a brilliant talent for bridging the past and the present and showing us that in many ways day to day concerns remain the same throughout the ages. I particularly like how the author marries her skills for story creating into some bare facts about a real tapestry (it does exist) and real people. This is what she did in Girl with a Pearl Earring too, of course.

Whilst this novel clearly did not make the same splash as Chevalier’s more famous earlier book, it’s a good read and I would recommend it. Glad I found it on that book stall!

Have you read any of Tracy Chevalier’s books?

If you have enjoyed this post, I’d love for you to follow my blog. Let’s also hook up on social media.