The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, by Bridget Asher.
Why were we here? The three of us suddenly seemed like an unlikely trio. This was a time for Charlotte to broaden her horizons, a chance for Abbott to overcome his fears, and me? I was on a pilgrimage for the brokenhearted and was supposed to learn to live again -- to be alive. - from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 134 -
Heidi is still grieving her husband Henry nearly two years after his tragic death. She has closed herself off from her business as a pastry chef, and from her family and friends. Her focus is on her troubled and fearful eight year old son, Abbott. She tells him stories about his father to keep Henry's memory alive. When Heidi's mother proposes that Heidi travel to Provence to renovate a house which has been in their family for decades, Heidi decides to make the trip and brings Abbott and her sixteen-year-old niece Charlotte with her. All three characters arrive in France with emotional baggage -- Abbott carries his fears of death, Charlotte is seeking acceptance after being caught between her divorced parents, and Heidi hopes only to reconcile her grief and learn how to live her life again without Henry. Beneath the warm Provence sun, surrounded by the heady aromas of French cooking, and immersed in the secrets of the past, all three will find that healing is possible.
Julianna Baggott (writing under the pseudonym Bridget Asher) captures the beauty of the French countryside and made my mouth water with her gorgeous descriptions of food which is such a huge part of French culture.
I could see the pale gold chicken resting in its deep sauce of tomatoes, garlic, peppers. I could smell the garlic, wine and fennel. Veronique served and the juices ran sparkling to the edges of my plate, carrying a hint of citrus. And the smell bloomed. - from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 242 -
The characters in this novel ring true. Baggott reveals their strengths and weaknesses, and creates characters who begin to feel like old friends. In addition to Heidi, Charlotte and Abbott, there is Henry -- who lives on the page through Heidi's memories -- and Heidi's mother, a "proper" French woman who harbors a secret from her "lost summer" in Provence when Heidi was just a young girl. Julien, the Frenchman who Heidi remembers from long ago, is equal parts charm and vulnerability as he reveals that his heart is wounded after a divorce. I found myself absorbed in these characters' lives, believing their stories, and wanting to see them find happiness.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the house in Provence which becomes a character in its own right. Throbbing with the stories of love and miracles that have unfolded within its walls, the house holds its own secrets.
The house's mythology was not just my mother's. It was passed down through generations -- how else could it have survived and thrived? -- mostly down the line of women. - from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 75 -
Grief and loss and the idea of moving forward and healing are strong themes in the novel. Baggott also explores the connections between mothers and daughters and between sisters. But it is the idea of opening one's heart to another and the liberating exhilaration of finding love which is perhaps what turns this novel of loss into one of joy and redemption.
When you've felt shut down and then begin to open back up, what comes alive first? You think of all the usual suspects: the senses, the heart, the mind, the soul. But then maybe all of these things are so interconnected that you can't differentiate a stirring of the heart from a scent, the rustling of the soul from a breeze across your skin, a thought from a feeling, a feeling from a prayer. - from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 241 -
I found myself racing through this novel, gulping it down and immersing myself in its comforting words. Julianna Baggott writes from the heart. Her prose is deeply felt and honest. I loved her descriptions of the French countryside, her understanding of her characters, and the way she was able to merge the stories of multiple characters into a cohesive and compelling novel.
Readers who love novels that are grounded in setting and those who are drawn to women's fiction, will love this novel.
- Quality of Writing: Four and a half stars
- Characters: Five stars
- Plot: Four stars
Overall Rating: Four and a half stars out of five
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".