Review - The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
288p, Harper, ISBN-10: 0061721557

This book is a simple but poignant story of women who're brought together and later on, uplifted through the art of lace-making. Seattle resident Kate Robinson, is on a hiking tour of Ireland to recover from the triple loss of her career as a designer, her mother to cancer and her boyfriend to a backstabbing friend. Her wounded soul finds a measure of solace when she wanders into the picturesque but ailing town of Glenmara.

Widowed and alone, Bernie is one of the women of the local Lace Maker's Society and she's the first one to feel that Kate is destined to change her life and indeed all of their lives. She invites Kate to stay with her. Together the women of the society are inspired to create exquisite lingerie with their lace besides the traditional items. In a place like Glenmara, where things are still done as they have been done for centuries, where the people are very close to their pasts, the women's bold enterprise of lacy lingerie is a shocking new development which threatens to unleash a spate of events that will change all their lives.

The story moves at a slow pace, but that's not a drawback as it suits the sleepy, decaying ambiance of Glenmara and gradual metamorphosis the characters begin to undergo with catalyst Kate's arrival. The changing of the lace heralds a change in the outlook of the women themselves and that makes for interesting reading. From Kate looking for a new life to Oona seeking a new self-image, there are plenty of emotional and courageous moments. Not everybody gets a happy ending, but that's true to real life and feels like it. The characterizations themselves are excellent, and the author skilfully captures the individuality of each woman while depicting the women as a whole in the form of the Lace Maker's Society. Which brings me another important feature of this book, the LACE. It's literally the thread that binds all these myriad storylines together to form a strong core. There are also plenty of local characters who add color, personality and yes, humor to the story. Glenmara is representative of Ireland and the Irish themselves, it's history and how the modern life has affected it is also thoughtfully presented.

One aspect I really liked was that while Glenmara might not have all the modern conveniences like a WiFi network, that doesn't mean the villagers aren't technologically savvy; even if it means going to another nearby town to get internet connection or launch an email blast to advertise their business. The humorous crime beat of the local Gaelic newspaper is another thing I found enjoyable in this book.

I did find some cons with the book, though they aren't the kind to make me put the book down. The major one was that between one event to the other, there is rarely a mention of the time elapsed and this confused me time and again. Where I'd have thought a couple of days went by, it turned out weeks had elapsed and vice versa. Perhaps it was done deliberately as a plot ploy by the author to imply that time stood still in Glenmara, but sadly it didn't work for me. One other thing was the way Kate settles into Bernie's home and life with nary a discussion or an argument for or against Kate's staying between Kate and Bernie themselves. This is the same when some other incidents happen and while the readers are shown the responses/thoughts of the individuals separately, we're not shown their collective response or even shown them discussing it amongst themselves which I'd have thought natural. But, like I said before, these cons are just some irritating jerks interrupting the smooth flow of the story, and not enough to dismiss this book out of hand.

To sum up, The Lace Makers of Glenmara is a warm, poignant narrative that beautifully encompasses change and emotional upheaval in the lives and loves of women and with them, the land itself.

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