Monday, March 7, 2011

The Tapestry Shop

Follow me, come down the path,
The path, the path along the wood.
~ Adam de la Halle, Robin et Marion
I enjoy historical fiction which portrays the lives of ordinary working people, and so found The Tapestry Shop by Joyce Elson Moore an intriguing read. Town life in northern France towards the end of the reign of King St. Louis IX is vividly described with all its bustling trade amid sounds, smells and colors. Catherine Durant, the heroine, is another example of how women shared in the running of businesses throughout history and more often than not were the ones who kept the accounts. The hero, Adam de la Halle, is a minstrel of some fame and it is fascinating to see the world from his point of view. According to the author's website:
This is the story of the trouvère Adam de la Halle, a thirteenth century wandering poet/musician who entertained in France’s royal courts. Adam’s secular play, Robin et Marion, led to the birth of the comic opera form and the legend of Robin Hood. After political exile, Adam must return to Arras, the city of his birth, and confront the reality of a failed marriage. As a protégé of King Louis’ nephew, Adam attends the university in Paris, but when he meets Catherine, a shopkeeper’s daughter, they fall in love.
Catherine, burdened by guilt for her past, has deep religious convictions and an adventuresome spirit. When she decides to join the king’s latest crusade, Adam confronts his disdain for what he considers an intolerant church, based on his knowledge of its treatment of Cathars and Jews. Torn by conflicting ideals, they move toward their destiny, each determined to prevail, but the choices they make bring them both to heights and depths neither could ever imagine.
Catherine torments herself with guilt over something she did not do but then, like most scrupulous people, ends up in a genuinely errant state. Unfortunately she does not listen to those older and wiser. In one chapter she finds herself in the most morbid convent in France and climbs the wall; it was obvious she did not have a vocation, especially the way she kept obsessing about her imagined misdeeds. Keeping her rash vow to go on crusade troubles her conscience much more than romping in the woods with a lover, contrary to any balanced spiritual life.

As for Adam, he is romantic character, although I found it annoying when he complained about the policies of the royal family, while allowing them to pay for his education and advance his career. If he felt that strongly about how the Jews and Cathars were treated then he should not have accepted the generous patronage of King Louis' nephew, especially since Count Robert treated him like a brother. His deep passion for Catherine sets the pages aflame; Adam cannot bear to think of her being hurt or in peril, yet by his actions he brings her into the greatest peril of her life. There are few things worse than being on the road while pregnant, homeless and unmarried.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves the Middle Ages. It is a tapestry of France in the days of St. Louis, which was overall a time of prosperity for France, in spite of the ill-fated crusades and the bandits on the byways. Please visit the author's blog on which she shares her meticulous research about everyday medieval life. I would also recommend reading Sarah Johnson's review of The Tapestry Shop, HERE.

(*NOTE: A copy of The Tapestry Shop was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

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