Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers

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?


Filed under Books of 2009, Harper Collins, Review, Salley Vickers

23 responses to “Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers

  1. Dot

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this, it’s such a lovely book, I always thought that it would make a brilliant film. The only other Sally Vickers book that I have read is Mr Golightly’s holiday and personally I didn’t think it was a match for Miss Garnet’s Angel. Hope that you feel better after your relaxing weekend!

    • I think ‘lovely’ is possinly the best one word review that you could give for this book. I think its one that I will be thinking about for quite a while and smiling to myself. A joy to read.

  2. I agree completely with your review. I’ve read “Miss Garnet’s Angel” and “The Other Side of You”, both of which were excellent. I’m very surprised that her new book “Dancing Backwards” has had such little impact in the book world with no Booker mention, very few reviews. Considering how much impact she has had on readers, there should have been more excitement.

    • You are quite right Dancing Backwards seems to have not made very much impact which seems odd as I have heard some very good things about it. Though without offending the publishers or the author I think the cover looks like one of those £5 PC games and I do think covers help. One I am definately going to read though.

  3. Ellen

    Hi Savidge Reads,
    I also enjoyed Miss Garnett’s Angel and Julia’s character and quest. Vickers’ other book is called Mr. Golightly’s Holiday. While MGA has religious undertones, as you say, but you can ignore them, Mr Golightly has much more religion in it, and none of the lovely Venetian scenery of MGA. I didn’t like it, though it is written in a readable style, and wouldn’t recommend it unless you have an interest in Christian mythology.

    • Hi Ellen, is it me or has this blog brought in commenters that I have not yet had the delights of meeting? I could be wrong, I hope I am right ha!

      Mr Golightly’s Holiday from the title and having read Miss Garnet’s Angel now sounds like a male version of the book.

      I dont mind religious undertones in books its when they get preachy, I am not religious myself but am open to it. I just dont need it thrown at me.

  4. So glad you loved this one, Simon. It really resonated when I read this several years ago.

    She’s a really interesting writer, a former psychotherapist (did I spell that right?) and Shakespearean (sp?) scholar, and I suspect she’s probably got a deep interest in theology too.

    I can highly recommend The Other Side of You, which is quite a devastating story about a woman recovering from a suicide attempt.

    I read Instances of the Number 3 and thought it was quirky but nothing to rave about.

    Dancing Backwards is a lovely, gentle read about a woman finding herself on board a ship, where she learns to dance.

    All these books are reviewed on my blog if you’re interested. http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/authors_salley_vickers/

    • I had already been and sneaked a peak at your thoughts on Salley Vickers as Dancing Backwards put her in my mind then one of my non blogging friends said he was reading MGA and then saw your review and thought oh why not!

  5. I haven’t read Sally Vickers yet, but Miss Garnet’s Angel sounds like quite a delightful read!

  6. Book Addict

    I have read Miss Garnett and agree that it is a haunting book that stayed with me. Not yet read any of her others, but they are on my TBR pile . Just need to get round to them!

    • Haunting is a very good word for it, I wish I had also used ‘resonates’ in my review. Hindsight is such a wicked thing hahaha. I have The Other Side of You on my TBR pile waiting now. Am going to stock up on her as and when I see more of her novels cross my path.

  7. Another author we have a big difference of opinion with! I didn’t enjoy reading this at all! I won’t be reading any other books by her, but I hope you find some more to like.

    • If you don’t like one book by an author do you never read that author again? Wowsers does it never worry you that it maybe wasnt just for you at the time and they might have better? What was it specifically you didnt like?

      I think if I would have missed out on some cracking books if I never read another book by certain authors after my first try wasnt quite for me. Each to their own though.

  8. Pingback: Book Beginnings… Is It All About Timing? « Savidge Reads

  9. Fran H-B

    I have just re read Miss Garnets Angel, my first read being several years ago. I am due to pass through Venice in the next week catching a ferry to Greece. I know we will sail past the church of Miss G’s angel so I will be poised with a camera. Hopefully I may have time to walk there too. I loved this book both first time, and my re-read, especially now I am more familar with the city.

    • Oh I am most envious! Venice hasnt ever really been on my list of place to go and yet with reading two books based in Venice in the past week (as Susan Hills ghost story was) I now need to go there asap. I would definatley like to re-read this book whilst there too!

  10. Pingback: Books of 2009 « Savidge Reads

  11. novelinsights

    I managed to pick up a copy on your recommendation. It’s going to be a ‘rogue’ Venice read! Very excited after having read the review and I also managed to get The Passion and Death in Venice out of the library which was quite exciting especially as The Passion is a lovely little Bloomsbury copy. Great review!

  12. Pingback: Book Review – Miss Garnet’s Angel, by Salley Vickers « Novel Insights

  13. Lynn K

    I too loved Miss Garnet’s Angel, and also Dancing Backwards was brilliant too, but I found Mr Golightly repetitive and quite tedious, something I really didn’t expect from Salley Vickers who I think is a superb writer. I heard her talk at the Buxton festival this year, she was funny, fascinating and totally likeable.

  14. Hi! I see I’m quite late for a comment here, but I cant resist. I’ve just finished this book and found it wonderful. I happened to be in Venice when I started it and decided to take pictures of the places in the novel. Venice adds a touch of magic to everything. (I like your blog, by the way!)

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