Belinda’s Book Nook Review: The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony

ruinsoflaceThe Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony   –  The story begins with two sisters – Katharina, who is a lacemaker at the Flemish abbey of Lendelmolen; the other, Heilwich, who is a housekeeper to a nearby priest. Both stories are presented in the first person narrative.

Then other characters are added to the story – Denis, a border guard whose job it is to seek out the smugglers; a dog used for smuggling; Lisette, a young girl who has fallen under the spell of lace; Alexandre, a young man with no future of his own who seeks redemption and honour; and a scheming Count who hopes to use this precious gift as a bribe to secure his own financial future.

Let me first say that I am a member of a Barnes and Noble bookstore book club as well as some online clubs at GoodReads. I joined Barnes and Nobles’ group about a year ago. So last November we all had the opportunity to nominate a few books to be considered for 2014.  I nominated 3 or 4 and I believe two made the cut.  Ruins of Lace was one of them and our first book of the new year.  I chose it based on the description rather than a recommendation from anyone.  I also chose it because I enjoy historical fictions where I might learn something new. I knew nothing before about the history of lace in France.

As I began to read the book, I realized it was very dark and sad throughout much of the story. I started to worry about the book being a flop for my book club.  I kept thinking the members will be so disappointed about my selection but I pushed through the book because I was not going to the meeting having not completed my recommendation.

Since completing the book, I have changed some of my thoughts about the book. I won’t lie to you, it was a very sad story with some disturbing chapters. But I also remember feeling this way while reading The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. So I am trying not to let the difficult parts taint my overall thoughts on the book. Sometimes you have to see the hardships to understand the depths of a story. I do think the author captures some of this but I believe she had too many characters to keep many readers reading the book.  

I believe she could have removed the dog altogether and still make the point on how dogs were used to detect lace being smuggled.  I found it difficult to keep up with all of the characters so I ended up writing them down early on in the book. Once I did that it was smooth sailing. Each chapter moved from different characters and I found myself wanting to know what would happen so I pressed on.

One thing I realized is that the common thread between all of the characters is the lack of worthiness. Each character for various reasons felt unworthy in some ways.  This is what I believe motivated each character to make the choices they made throughout the story and I felt true empathy for many of them.

Would I recommend this book again? Maybe. This is not to say it is a bad book or that I didn’t learn some of lace’ history in France. I did in fact learn a great deal. If you can step back from the painful chapters, the story did cover important information about this period in history. Just be prepared to read some difficult things but know that everything weaves together at the end of the book.

If by chance you have read this book please share your thoughts.

Happy Reading!



  1. This one definitely had parts that were hard to read, but I think the author did a great job portraying a time in history people don’t know a lot about, and unfortunately history can be rather ugly! Like you, once I got all the characters straight, I was interested enough to see what would happen. This won’t make my list of top books ever read, but was a worthwhile read nonetheless!

    • Hey Christine! Thanks for stopping by. Tough review because I don’t want to discourage people just want to be honest about the difficulty in reading some parts.

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