Sunday, July 04, 2010

Casting Off by Nicole R. Dickson

There have been a lot of novels written lately with a knitting theme (a.k.a. KnitLit), testimony to the popularity of knitting in current society – a good thing in my opinion. The reviews on them have been mixed, some are good, others are basically little more than Harlequin-type romances with a few knitting scenes thrown in. I was a little skeptical about Nicole R. Dickson's Casting Off but it proved to be quite charming.

It is essentially a romance, too, and there are no surprises to be had but there are some very good characters, the setting on an island off the coast of Ireland is delightfully described, and the story at least involves some actual knitting (and spinning). To be honest the only character I had a hard time warming up to was Rebecca, the main character. Rebecca is a young single mother of a precocious six year old who is working on a PhD in archeology and comes to Ireland to study traditional “ganseys”, Irish knit sweaters. She is haunted by a past relationship with the despicable Dennis, the father of her daughter Rowan. Once on the island she is overwhelmed by the friendliness of its citizens all of who know her well from the stories told by Sharon, a young woman from the village who was Rebecca's roommate in college. Thus begins her education of spinning, knitting, gansey lore and, of course, a predictable but still sweet romance with the entirely too perfect Fionn.

Each chapter begins with a description of a gansey pattern taken from a fictional book we later learn was written by Rebecca's daughter Rowan. As someone who has been knitting Aran and Guernsey patterns for over 40 years I have to say I never heard of many of them and would have liked to see mention of some different ones as well but that wasn't really important. There were a few things about the writing that annoyed me, particularly the repetitive descriptions, but I loved most of the characters, especially the old fisherman Sean who was a miserable old s.o.b. in his youth and paid dearly for it. Since tradition tells us that originally it was men who did the knitting I was glad the story acknowledged that.

My problem with Rebecca, like with too many “heroines” in novels today, is that for someone working on a PhD in archeology thus, we can reasonably assume, fairly intelligent, she can certainly be a bullheaded nitwit. Right from the beginning she is very attracted to Fionn (who wouldn't be? he's perfect) but she keeps finding little things to pitch ridiculous hissy-fits about and stomp off in high dudgeon. Then, of course, Fionn does something irresistibly cute and she gets over it. I guess this is how contemporary writers build romantic tension but there were a couple of times when I thought Fionn should have given her a good kick in the pants.

Some of her issues are explained when we find out what happened “that fateful night” (the build up to that got a tad tiresome, too) but other issues are never explained like her attitude toward the local Catholic priest, the sweet, charming Father Michael, and also to the Church. I couldn't help but wonder if this was an issue of the author's own that spilled over into the story – particularly when Father Michael told Rebecca why Fionn had come to him for Confession. Those of us who are Catholics know Father Michael should be excommunicated for doing that – not a thing taken lightly among Catholics.

So, I liked the story, I loved the people and the setting, and it was a thoroughly pleasant read. I wish Rebecca had been less of a twit (she didn't deserve Fionn, he's perfect) and I wish the author had paid a little more attention to detail but, all in all, it was a pleasant story. I'll look forward to Ms. Dickson's next work.

Thanks for reading.

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