In the aftermath of a bad relationship and her mother’s untimely death, a Seattle seamstress flees to her ancestral Ireland.
Glenmara, the fictional setting of Barbieri’s disappointing second novel (after Snow in July, 2004), is a decaying hamlet near the rocky Galway coast. Despite endemic poverty, the village boasts a lace-makers guild: craftswomen who eke out a few euros on tea towels and napkins sold at the village market, when they’re not edging altar cloths gratis for curmudgeonly parish priest Father Byrne. Into this anachronistic world wanders Kate, a failed fashion designer who left Seattle for Ireland after her mother succumbed to cancer and her boyfriend dumped her for a model. Elder lace-maker Bernie, widowed and childless, opens her home to the waiflike American. The women demonstrate their delicate art to Kate and tell their stories. Oona is a breast-cancer survivor. Colleen, whose angelic singing voice marks her as a descendent of the mythical selkies (mermaids), fears the sea may claim her fisherman husband. Aileen is troubled by her teenage daughter’s Goth phase. Moira lives in fear of her abusive spouse and lies about the origin of the bruises on her face. Kate is introduced to the craics (dances), where she bests Aileen at stepdancing, and to Sullivan, the town Lothario, whose black hair and piercing eyes telegraph that he’s the one for her. The central conceit here, reminiscent of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat (1999), is that a newcomer introduces a magical Macguffin. In this case, it’s Kate’s new line of lingerie trimmed with Glenmara lace, which not only revives guild members’ marriages, but also challenge the forces of prudery and male oppression. The promising fracas generated by the “knicker wars”—Byrne denounces the guild from the pulpit—dissipates when the priest is conveniently downsized. Barbieri’s amateurish prose, replete with comma splices and misplaced modifiers, is utterly unworthy of Yeats, Trevor, O’Brien and other masters whose names are dropped like wishful talismans throughout.
Erin go Blah.