Marianne is sixty.
She has been married to a dull, controlling man for forty-four years. On a cheap bus tour from their German hometown with her husband to Paris, she jumps off the Pont Neuf and to her fury, is rescued.
In hospital, she finds a beautifully painted tile calling to her of the sea and a safe harbour. Marianne walks out of the hospital, hitches a ride to the north, encounters kindly nuns and eventually finds herself in the village on the tile – Kerdruc in Brittany.
Marianne quickly finds herself employed at Ar Mor– The Little Breton Bistro. Here she finds herself involved with the lives of unusual people with strong personalities and fascinating backgrounds. All have stories of love.
There is Genevieve, the restaurant owner, Simon and Paul, the older fisherman who are in the throes of unrequited love when we meet them, Pascale, the white witch with dementia and her loving husband Emile, with Parkinson’s. Jean-Remy, the chef is hopelessly in love with Laurine, the waitress, but cannot articulate his love. Sidonie, the sculptor and Colette, the gallery owner complete the circle.
Except for Yann, the tile painter whose work first drew Marianne to Kerdruc. Yann and Marianne fall in love and in this love, both truly blossom.
Their friendship transforms Marianne from the downtrodden housewife to an independent passionate woman. She learns French, with Colette’s guidance develops style, takes up the accordion again, drives again, learns of the mystic folklore of Brittany and revels in the beauty of the natural world.
Marianne realises that the life of an ‘autonomous woman’ is always a struggle not to obey – mothers, custom and convention, men. She realises she believed that love could be earnt through suffering, through not asking what was needed. And then she realised how untrue that was.
The reckoning day with Lothar, her husband must come. He arrives in Brittany, having tracked Marianne down through a television appeal. And Marianne has to make the choice.
This book is a delight to read. Nina George’s characterisation is skilful, so that you feel the reality of these people and their stories.
The descriptions of the food and wine are mouth watering. The festival and customs of Brittany are described in detail. The wild seascapes, the safe harbours, the pretty villages make you want to add Brittany to the must see list.
An attraction of the book is the philosophy of Celtic Brittany that is key to the characters’ outlook on life. There are the stories of the stones, of the world between life and death, la nuit de Samhain when, at the end of summer, the ancestors and living gather for twelve hours. It is a place where the story of Merlin, the magician and his lover Viviane, still has power.
This is a wonderful, escapist read. Few of us can escape the realities of our responsibilities and transform into the romantic passionate person of our dreams at sixty.
But, I did love reading it.
The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George (published by Hachette Australia) is available now from Dymocks.