I will discuss the sudden turnaround of my going from starting Cover Her Face by P.D James to reading Miss Garnet’s Angel in more detail tomorrow when I will be asking you your thoughts on a certain subject that it has brought to light. For now though I thought I would get on with reviewing a book that completely took me by surprise and one that I have actually owned before decided wouldn’t be for me and so gave away only to the purchase it recently once more.
Miss Garnet’s Angel firstly it should be said is utterly wonderful. For me it had a real mixture of the quirky heroine of a 1930’s – 1950’s book you would think Virago would have published (they don’t publish this book) and also has the setting and prose of a classic that E.M. Forster could have penned, a combination which makes it highly and delightfully readable. I think all of this contributed to it being an utter hit with me.
We meet our narrator Julia Garnet just after she decides to rent out her home after the death of her house mate and fellow teacher Harriet who “she hated that people assumed they were lesbians” which shows the slight humour in the writing of Salley Vickers from the start. Taking the death as a sign she needs to be more daring in life so she decides to take an extended holiday to Venice. This isn’t a tale about loss and grief even though it is very much part of the book, it also doesn’t darken or make the book depressive, what the book is essentially about is a middle aged woman finding herself and facing her past through the people she meets the situations she gets into and the sights and discoveries she takes in. She is a very interesting character still a virgin and still incredibly repressed we watch as she emerges out of herself after a long time being so unsure who she is.
Some of the wonderful characters she meets are a pair of holidaying Canadians, the young and slightly unruly Nicco who becomes a student, her incredibly interfering (in a wonderful way) the charming Carlo who seems to be the first man to have ever make her heart truly flutter and the mysterious twins Toby and Sarah the later of who are working on the restoration of Chapel of the Plague. In fact meeting the later three leads her to finding a painting that seems to call out to her and tells the story of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael. These stories are then interwoven by Vickers as Julia unravels the tale she herself unravels, it’s wonderfully worked.
I thought this was an utterly wonderful novel and it has only taken one book to make me fairly sure that Vickers will soon become a favourite. Though are the rest of her books tinged quite so much with the religious? I don’t like books that preach and this one never did but there were a few moments when I was slightly concerned but how could you depict Venice without the religious symbols and stories and it works just right with the ongoing story of Julia’s self discovery. It’s an unstated and yet thought provoking tale that says so much so subtly. Beautiful prose, delightful characters and a sprinkling of mystery and history just what you need when you want to get lost in a book. To think this was Vickers debut novel is quite astounding I hope that the rest of her books are as good as this one? What of Vickers have you read and loved and which Vickers novel should I read next?