Title: The Lace Makers of Glenmara
Author: Heather Barbieri
I don’t know why book reviews always seem to make me confess something, but here goes another one: I confess that I never–never!–read any book unless it’s a classic/on a book list/a bestseller/or highly recommended by someone close to me. Which is why I was so surprised to find myself buying this book at the Scholastic book fair in April. I bought this book just like any normal person would buy a book: I liked the cover, read the back, and decided it sounded worth a try. Of course, what makes me not-quite-normal is that my stomachs churned as I paid for it (knowing that there were other, worthier books I probably should have bought instead) and that I bought it strictly for the purpose of it being a “fluff” book—something to clean out my brain between weightier reads.
That being said, I should judge it by “fluff” standards. Unfortunately, I don’t judge anything by “fluff” standards, even though I probably should get in the habit, so I’ll be generally less disappointed in life. But on to the review itself.
The Lace Makers of Glenmara tells the story of Kate, a 20-something aspiring fashion designer who recently lost both her mother to cancer and her boyfriend of five years to a model at one of her runway shows. In her mother’s will, Kate had been left an inheritance specifically meant to finance a trip to Ireland, where Kate’s family traced their bloodline. Feeling she has nothing left to lose, Kate begins to travel through Ireland, with only a bare itinerary and the hope that she’ll find whatever it is she’s looking for. After getting lost one day, she finds herself wandering along a nearly-abandoned road, where she is picked up by a traveling tradesman named William. He drops her off in a sleepy village named Glenmara before he continues on his journey elsewhere.
Glenmara is a small village where everyone knows everyone, where families can trace back their histories for generations. But Glenmara is struggling–there are few tourists to bring in money, few opportunities for new business ventures, and the inhabitants face the prospect of having to move to more modern locales that offer more employment prospects. Kate, a trained seamstress, finds herself fascinated by the women of Glenmara’s Lace Society–a band of women, each facing her own set of struggles and joys–who have been making and selling the traditional lace styles that have been passed down from one generation to the next as far back as anyone can remember. Although not planning on staying, Kate finds herself transfixed by the intricacy of the lacework and begins to sit in on the women’s sewing nights, learning the craft herself. After a couple weeks in the town, Kate envisions a new business venture for the Lace Society–a line of handcrafted lace lingerie specially-made for each woman’s needs. The idea takes off like wildfire, but the women soon find out that when you try to change traditions in a traditional town, you’re always going to meet with opposition.
I know, I know—it even sounds pretty fluffy. But it showed potential, so I gave it a try. And when it comes right down to it, I still can’t quite decide how I feel about this book. I know I didn’t love it–the characters were often weakly developed, the plotline was kind of all over the place, and there was nothing about the writing style that was particularly unique or loveable. On the other hand, I didn’t hate it–there was enough of a plotline to mildly entertain me, and I occasionally found a paragraph or two that was well-crafted. Moreover, the book did indeed clean out my brain in preparation for whatever I read next, so I guess in that way, mission accomplished. But there were certain elements that bugged me enough throughout the book that prevented me from every really taking pleasure in it: like, for instance, the fact that I didn’t feel drawn to the main character at all. I felt like the author used the most basic fiction-writing techniques to sketch out her characters; I could almost hear her fiction-writing teacher’s head in her voice, telling her how to round out her characters, to add bits of background to give the reader insight into each character’s motivation. And like I’ve said before, if I’m ever thinking about the author, she hasn’t done her job too well.
The thing that bothered me the very most, though, was the little romance action between Kate and this guy she meets from the village, Now, I’m not one to necessary blame a character for his/her morality (or lack thereof) if I can see why those bits are relevant to the plot or if they give me greater insight into the character or a greater depth to the story. In this case, the romance did none of the above: it was shallow, not believable, and pretty forced. For instance, after only hours of being in each other’s presence, Sullivan (Kate’s love interest) says something like the following after Kate is worried that the population in general just witnessed some weakness that she wanted to keep hidden: “No, no one would know except those who know you well.”
REALLY?! You’ve known her for a grand total of like, two hours and ten minutes!! And half of that time, you were busy sleeping together! But apparently that two hours and ten minutes must have been pretty revelatory, since after so brief a period he claims to know Kate better than the general population. I just felt absolutely no connection to either her nor him throughout the whole story and was much more interested in some of the side stories that were going on. Once again, never a good sign. And on the morality note, this book just slams religion in general (especially the Catholic church), which is never appealing in a book to me.
But, in the end, I guess I got what I wanted from the novel, so I shouldn’t whine too much. But it will be a long, LONG time before I read another book that doesn’t meet my above-mentioned background requirements.
My Rating: 2 Stars