Trobairitz the Storyteller by Celia Micklefield – a novel that contains a story and shines a light on strong women

Trobairitz the Storyteller by Celia Micklefield

This is a novel with a story inside it. The trobairitz were female troubadours who used songs to comment on love and much more. They were common in the twelfth and thirteen century. This is a novel featuring a twenty first century trobairitz , a female truck driver who does not share personal details, but tells a story of a village, with some memorable characters who live there. I found it an intriguing idea, especially as the story weaves in and out of the truck driver’s ongoing life story. She rejoices in the name of “Weed”, having rejected her mother’s choice of Fleur, and lives a life where she travels across Europe, driving a top of the range truck. This is a sensitively written book which depicts the small issues in a working life, the people she meets, the places she travels to, the ways she attempts to relax. I learnt a lot about truck driving across places like France, the sort of work involved, and the details of the cabs. The long story that she embarks on, apparently to deflect too much interest in her own life, is not greatly historical; this is not a “time – slip” novel but one that tells a story that is virtually contemporary. It is a story that in other circumstances could form the basis of a novel on its own. It features life in a small French village, where the job of mayor is nearly hereditary, and yet women are the life force of many of the events. This is a multi layered story where the themes are not always immediately evident, even though important. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable book. 

The book begins with Weed arriving at a service station and shocking the working girls  who approach the queue of trucks by being a woman jumping out of her truck, as she says “I’ve got the full complement of European expletives”. When she goes into the restaurant of the next services she meets several truck drivers who begin to ask questions of her, seeing that she has a top of the range truck and are intrigued to see that she drives the routes alone. To divert their attention and to avoid a potentially embarrassing attraction to one of the drivers herself, she begins to tell her story. 

The story is of Madame Catherine Joubert, an older woman of apparently independent means who lives in a grand but faded house in a small French village. It seems she has a mysterious past, and isn object of mystery in a small French village where people love to know one another’s secrets. In particular there appears to be tension between her and the town’s mayor Henri-Claude Noilly. The baker, the butcher and the publican all have a view, and it immediately appears that there are many potential developments.

The book reveals Weed’s story, her origins, her life away from driving. Driving a truck is not as straightforward as I thought, especially in emergency circumstances. Weed’s voice echoes through the book, confident and able, but with one or two weaknesses. I found this a very compelling and engaging read, and just as the other truck drivers, I was keen to find out more about the village and its inhabitants. Weed is a very interesting character, determined to get the job done. The narration, through Weed, is a strong one, and this is altogether a fascinating novel. It speaks well of the possibilities of travelling across Europe, and the power of story telling. I recommend it as a book that works on many levels, with many interesting and engaging themes.