Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA by Heather Barbieri

 As I remember, THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA by Heather Barbieri was a popular read when it first was published and soon made it on many bookclub lists.  I never read the book back then (2009-2010) but kept the title in mind for a future read.  When I finally decided to request the book on interlibrary loan this spring, I was anxious to make my "trip to Ireland" and to be charmed by the small village in which the book is set.   Kate, a talented clothing designer who hasn't quite found her niche, takes off for Ireland, the isle of her ancestors, after her boyfriend dumps her.  This is a trip that she had always planned to take with her mother, but it never happened, and then her mother died.  Seeming to be wandering without a purpose, Kate ends up in the village of Glenmara, a place who seems to have barely left the 1800's and the Great Potato Famine.  With no viable transportation for several days, Kate agrees to stay with Bernie, a widow who gladly opens her too-quiet home to the young American.  As Kate begins to explore the village, she learns about the group of women who meet several times a week to make lace, just as their mothers and grandmothers did.  The women try to sell their lace, carefully sewn on traditional Irish linens at weekly markets and fairs to raise money for their families and village, but each year their endeavors are less successful.  As the women show Kate how to make the lace, she (and we the readers) learn more about each of the women -- their sorrows, burdens, and hopes.  But when Kate encourages the women to try their lace on something new -- lingerie, she invites the wrath of the village priest who sees her as an outsider and a negative influence.

As I said before, I began this book with great hope, and at first I was delighted by the setting and the author's language.  I could close my eyes and see the green grasses of Glenmara and smell the damp air, but as the story went on, the delightful language seemed to disappear, and I felt all the characters were just slightly disappointing.  Wondering if I missed something, I checked reviews on Goodreads and found quite a variety of responses.  Many readers were ecstatic about the novel, but others commented much as I felt -- that the characters seemed to fit a pattern found in women's fiction -- a new love with a bit of mystery about himself,  a woman with an abusive husband, another with a difficult teenager, the widow, and a jealous friend.  Even the priest seemed to be pulled from a mold.
Plus, I had a problem with the whole lace proposition.  To be fair to the author, she mentions several types of lace that the ladies made, including crochet and bobbin.  I don't know how to make lace, but my sister in law learned how to make bobbin lace when she lived in England, and it is not a hobby that ones just catches onto, as Kate seemed to do.  That such delicate, complicated work would just be added to ready made panties and bras and suddenly be sexy or fashionable seems to be a major flow in my reality department.  It would make more sense that Kate would design lingerie from scratch and incorporate the lace makes more sense (that is what happens at the end, sort of).

So I am glad that finally read THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA, but I am also glad that bookclub did not chose this as a monthly read.

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