Tracy Chevalier has earned a place as one of my favorite authors. I very much enjoyed her previous books: The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Falling Angels. This one, however, fell short of my expectations. It’s written in a split narrative and goes between Ella Turner (present times) and Ella’s ancestor Isabelle du Moulin Tournier (16th century). As each story unfolds you wonder if Ella will discover her ancestor through her genealogical pursuits. But the real sympathies go to Ella’s ancestor Isabelle. In her story you feel bad, wish she had a better situation, a better husband and a life without so many hard times.
Present time: Ella’s husband Rick is transferred to southwestern France for work and this leaves Ella with lots of time on her hands. She was excited about living in France but the culture shock leads her to be more reclusive and disillusioned about the life she thought she would have there.
16th Century Shift: Isabelle (also known as La Rousse) and husband Etienne have a difficult relationship as his family is well-to-do and they do not like Isabelle’s family. They are part of the mass of villagers who shift to an anti-catholic stand and destroy the statue of the virgin Mary as well as place locks on the church door. Isabelle has red hair much like the portraits and the depictions of Mary and so they look upon her with suspicion. Suspect her of witchcraft at one point. Remember, this is the 16th century.
Back to Ella – she seeks the help of a handsome librarian to assist in her research, hoping to find out more of her Huguenot ancestors. It’s hard to have any sympathy for Ella with the way she treats her husband and her attitude in general. The end had some surprises and you are left to form your own conclusions about a few of the characters.
So….potatoes came to mind as a dish representing this book. For me it did but hey, I like potatoes and when Isabelle’s father gave her a sack of them so she wouldn’t starve…I thought right then….Tartiflette.