Isabeau Martin is a lonely, insecure woman whose life has been shaped by a deserting father and chronically depressed mother. She is asthmatic and grew up with the standing stones of Carnac as her only friends, avoiding other children, and sharing her thoughts with a massive menhir called the Manio giant. After her father left, her mother took Isabeau away from Carnac. At the start of this novel she has returned after her mother’s death and taken up the post of the Carnac Deputy Postmaster. She is still shy, reclusive and asthmatic, and hoping to discover what happened to her father.
One day, when the Postmaster is not at work, Isabeau receives a parcel from New Zealand addressed to the Postmaster. She opens it and discovers a container of ashes and a request from a man for his father’s remains to be scattered amongst the standing stones. We know the author of the request, Joseph, as the first sections of the book alternates between the story of Isabeau and that of Joseph. Joseph was all set to carry out the task of scattering the ashes himself, when fate intervened.
Most of the book is written from Isabeau’s point of view, and after the first section we only hear from Joseph via the correspondence that starts up between the two. Isabeau grows attached to Joseph’s father, George, or rather to his remains, and George joins the Manio Giant as another confidant for Isabeau. She does make some live friends; she is drawn to a woman from the local bakery, Marianne, and through her to Pierrot, a potential love interest who offers to help Isabeau renovate her family house, which has fallen into disrepair. There are also the Morel’s, neighbours from Isabeau’s childhood.
Despite these warm, welcoming, supportive people, Isabeau is still a fragile loner pursuing her mission to find her missing father. But an epistolary relationship grows between her and Joseph, and when Joseph writes announcing that he and his cousin are planning to visit France, and Carnac, Isabeau is thrown into a bit of a tizz. All of a sudden, she has Marianne’s wedding approaching, Pierrot expressing romantic interest in her, leads arising in the hunt for her father, a looming visit from Joseph – and the minor matter of un-scattered ashes. Joseph is a musician, and she also has his recorded voice as the sound track to her anxiety.
I don’t want to relate exactly how this plays out – it has the typical romance arc, but quite a few unexpected moves along the way to the denouement. There is lots of delicious French food described, and the French towns and environs are lovingly evoked. It is a moving tale as Isabeau has been so damaged by her childhood, but I did struggle a bit with this damage playing out not only with some terrible decision-making on her part, but also with a lack of backbone where it comes to saying the important things that need to be said. I recognise this is a plot structure requirement but still I found it trying. The other gripe I had was with a character in her mid-sixties who is described as though she is one trembling step away from her timely grave! But I was interested in how things were going to work out for the rather odd character Isabeau, and the book definitely made me want to visit Carnac – and there is helpful tourist information about the standing stones at the end of the novel.