The Brondesbury Tapestry by Helen Harris

Review published on May 15, 2018.

Dorothy has been forced to retire from her job as librarian (the library is closing down – in fact, it will shortly be demolished) but finds herself leading a life writing class at the Second Chance Centre, a local community centre in North London. She is not sure how she ended up in this position as she applied to run a local history group but on day one of the first term she is faced with six women and one man, all with stories to tell. She is by nature shy and unassertive but almost unwittingly she will open up an opportunity to her class which will affect each of them significantly.

There is Sabine, who tells of her childhood in Belgium; Pearl, who is single-handedly bringing up her teenage grandson; Iris, who is an 80 years old who signs up for a different course at the Centre every year; Esther, who wants to tell her mother’s story rather than her own; elusive and mysterious Renee; Enid, who is a retired art teacher and insists on telling her story in pictures; and Edgar, widowed and charming. Also, of course, there is tutor Dorothy’s tale to be shared.

As we proceed through the year, the class tell their stories but, of course, not everything is as it seems. There are mysteries, enigmas and tragedies in each of their lives and their story telling sets them all challenges as they come to terms with circumstances they have now revealed sometimes to the group but often, for the first time, to themselves. Connections are discovered, personalities laid open and truths faced.

Although this is probably not a novel I would have usually have picked off the shelf, I ended up finding it intriguing, quirky and thought provoking. The stories the characters tell serve to illustrate that there is really no such thing as an “ordinary” life although there are common threads which link everyone. Helen Harris gently allows the personalities of each individual to build as we observe what they share with the group (or, in some cases, what they do not reveal) until we care about each of them and wonder where their lives go from here.

Lots of questions are raised as to how we present ourselves, how we want to be seen and how we edit our own life stories. The book certainly left me thinking and I enjoyed Harris’s perceptive and descriptive writing. The Brondesbury Tapestry definitely provides good material for any reading group and I am now on the lookout for more works by this author.

Kathy Jesson 4/4

The Brondesbury Tapestry by Helen Harris
Halban Publishers 9781905559909 pbk May 2018

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