Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier

I am trying to think for the life of me why I haven’t read any of Tracey Chevaliers books before ‘Falling Angels’? I think I had gotten the impression they might be a bit historically twee. Where do we get these subconscious ideas from? However having been recommended it by some of you and by some of the other tour guides at Highgate Cemetery (which plays a huge part in the setting of the book) I mentioned it enough around the house for The Converted One to get a copy for me as a surprise belated birthday treat.

When opening the book I instantly got a shock. Wife swapping? In 1901 (well New Years eve of 1900)? Didn’t that all come in during the sixties with car keys and some such? Apparently not and Tracey Chevalier uses the opening of the morning after the night before to instantly put us into the deeply unhappy mindset of one of ‘Falling Angels’ main characters Kitty Coleman. Kitty married for love and yet now several years on and a daughter (Maude who is also a pivotal character) later on she isn’t quite happy with her lot and spends her time either in books or strolling round Highgate Cemetery. She is in essence bored and unfulfilled and it’s the changes in her that often as not move the story on but it’s not a story just about Kitty.

The day after Queen Victoria’s death all of England goes into morning and many head to their nearest cemetery and that’s where Kitty and her family meet The Waterhouse’s, a family not quite of the Coleman’s status, who have a family grave their with an angel that the Coleman’s object to. Being polite Victorian society they say nothing and make polite conversation. The families’ daughters however manage to go off and have an adventure, meeting gravedigger apprentice Simon, and become the best of friends drawing these two families into an acquaintance neither are sure they want. It’s these two families and the lives they lead after this and how they affect the others that the book follows and as we all know some families have some big secrets. Along with the domestic drama’s Chevalier also features the themes of a country in a time of change not just of monarchs but a whole era in which cars replace horses, fashions and customs change and a women’s movement starts (if you are interested in the suffragettes this is very much a book for you as it’s a huge plot).

Chevalier manages to fit a huge amount of change in a rather remarkable time in history effortlessly into this book. It could be too big and vast a period to cover because it’s so full and yet your divulging all this information easily because of the wonderful narratives. Yes, I said narratives and we aren’t talking one or two or even three here, I think by the end I counted ten from each member of the family (the two girls Maude and Lavinia are two wonderfully polar voices and very entertaining) but that of the gravediggers apprentice, the maids, the mother in law and the cook. Rather than being complicated each characters voice rings true and a full picture of these families is painted. I thought it was marvellously done.

I will admit before I started it I thought ‘Highgate better be in this a lot’ because I am slightly obsessed at the moment and didn’t know if the rest would interest me but it did greatly. I didn’t rush through it because I wanted to savour every page, every voice and I will admit I couldn’t have guessed the endings either. I am definitely going to read more Chevalier, where is good to head to next? Has she anymore set in the Victorian period as I could wallow with her there for ages all over again?


Filed under Harper Collins, Review, Tracy Chevalier

45 responses to “Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier

  1. Susi (The Book Affair)

    I thought her name sounded familiar – then Google was my friend – and I found that she’s also the author of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages after I’d seen the movie.
    This book, however, sounds really great and I love anything set in the Victorian era. I shall add it to Mount TBR immediately. 🙂

    • She was indeed the author of that book and its a book that I have always been somewhat unsure about to be honest. I might read that next as I think its the only other book by her that I currently own.

  2. Susi (The Book Affair)

    ETA: It’s rather Edwardian England, I just realised. You mention Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. Silly me. But that still won’t stop me from reading it. 🙂

  3. I have to admit that I had a similar impression of Tracey Chevalier (again not having read any of her work). Perhaps it’s the book covers, which seem so run-of-the-mill; oh dear, maybe I am guilty of having judged a book by its cover.

    Also, I didn’t really like the film of Girl with the Pearl Earring at all, so it didn’t endear me. Although it must be said that some very bad films have been made of some very good books (although I know a lot of people who did like the film).

    I am, though, really interested in the women’s suffrage movement, and this book seems very interesting, overall. Perhaps I shall overcome my prejudices and have a look out for it!

    • I am not sure what it is Jenny. I think I had made lots of assumptions about her from The Girl With The Pearl Earring cover to be honest. I will be reading that now though as I don’t think I have any others of hers, unless some are hiding somewhere in the house.

  4. gaskella

    Remarkable Creatures is about pioneer Victorian women fossil hunters and was wonderful – I really enjoyed it. Haven’t read Falling Angels though, but I do have it in the TBR pile.

    BTW I loved Pearl Earring – both book and film, although the film is all about the painting a picture in film rather than plot.

    The other one I’ve read was the one about the Lady & the Unicorn medieval tapestries. That book wasn’t quite as good, but the real tapestries are amazing (in the Musee du Moyen Age in Paris).

    • Remarkable Creatures has rather caught my eye it has to be said 9and not just for the delightful cover) oh the woes of not being able to go crazy in a bookstore any more. I find it most vexing.

      Sounds like all of her books are rather wonderful.

  5. Ooh this sounds fabulous! I have only read The Girl With The Pearl Earring, but keep meaning to read more Chevalier. Great review, thank you!

  6. Louise

    So glad you enjoyed it. I remember mentioning this one when you asked for Victorian recommendations a while ago. I read this book years ago and it’s the only TC book I have read but I remembered enjoying it and feeling quite moved by the story.

  7. This does sound good, Simon. Admittedly I’ve not been inclined to read her stuff having had a bad experience with The Girl with the Pear Earring but that was waaaaaaaaay back in the very very early days of blogging and my critical faculties weren’t as well honed as they are now. I’d probably like it a lot now if I gave it a re-read.

    • I am still not 100% convinced that I will get on too well with The Girl With The Pearl Earring but I think I will give it a try because I have nothing else of hers to read in the house.

      It’s interesting you bring up the point that teh more we blog the more honed we get. I think now I have started marking books out of ten it could be interesting to see over the years how the ammount of books that get 8’s – 10’s lessens as I am inclined to think it will.

  8. I want to read this now. I loved her other book ‘Remarkable Creatures’ because it’s set in the Victorian Period and I am obsessed with it!

  9. So glad you liked this one! Tracy Chevalier is an author that my mother, who usually only reads about 10 books a year, introduced me to and I’ve really enjoyed all of her books.

  10. This will be my first Chevalier read too as I found a copy at the used bookstore. I definitely want to read Remarkable Creatures too — I love women who got involved in the sciences at a time when they weren’t very welcome.

    • oh hoorah you have this to read rather imminently. I am really looking forward to your thoughts on this one in the future. I am normally not a sciences fan but Remarkable Creatures is definitley a book I want to read now.

  11. I read Girl With The Pearl Earring years ago and quite liked it, but then with all the hype around that book and her follow-up books which also seemed to mine the art world, I ended up avoiding her. My perception was that she was a bit gimmicky. So I am happy that this one got the Savidge Seal of Approval. It means I safely check out more of her work.

    • Hahahaha I like the idea of a Savidge Seal of Approval, I might have to use that now and again with forthcoming books I enjoy a fair amount.

      I am not sure if I thought she was gimmicky, I just think the cover of TGWTPE looked a bit up itself IMHO when I first saw it. I have no idea why I thought that and am looking forward to being proven wrong.

  12. This sounds like a really good read. Wife swapping in 1901? That’s surprising. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Falling Angels remains my favorite Chevalier book (although I haven’t read her new one yet). As an American reader, I learned so much I did not know about the British suffrage movement, and it fascinating to learn of the differences and similarities between the two movements. I always enjoy her novels, and I’m glad you’ve discovered them!

    • As a British reader I didn’t know too much about the suffragettes either and it was fascinating to hear more about the movement and some of the figures (for there is the occasional real character in this book) who were a part of it.

  14. Alfonso

    I thought Chevalier was an excellent writer after a few lines of Girl with pearl ear ring, and I reinfroced this judgement after reading 2 pages of Falling angels.
    However, my personal recommendation would be to go for what I believe to be her first novel, namely “The Virgin Blue”, even though it displays no Victorian setting. Its double plot is cleverly devised and finely written.

  15. Thanks for the recommendation – I’m going to get on the waiting list at the library ASAP!

  16. Laura

    Great review. The book sounds a little like ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’… same setting, big secrets.
    Incidentally, as a fanatical side note, plurals do not require a comma. The ‘s’ on the Waterhouses, the Colemans and dramas are all unnecessary. However, ‘the gravediggers apprentice’ does need one, as you are trying to show belonging.

    • As Audrey is another tour guide at Highgate I wouldn’t really liek to comapre and contrast the two it has to be said. Highgate is depicted wonderfully in both, I did love the history of it in this one and envisaging it in its original state.

      And thanks for the grammar tips hee hee. Blame Word 2007 its been autocorrecting everything I type lol.

  17. Dot

    I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this, I have read several of Chevalier’s books and loved them and I have this one on my TBR pile!

  18. novelinsights

    I like the idea that she uses the history effortlessly. The most enjoyable period books do that I think. Great review Simon.

    • The history really does just flow through the book effortlessly and you never think ‘oh she is just trying to get that additional thing in’ I would hazard a guess that you would like this one too.

  19. Ti

    I enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring but sort of forgot all about the author. This book sounds fabulous though.

    Also, did you just change your blog design or am I losing my mind a bit? Looks great. Very streamlined and easy on the eyes.

    • It is amazing how we can love an author and then promptly forget to read anything else by them again for ages if ever. But then again there is so much new and old fiction to discover its like your reading brain goes into overload. I would like to read an entire backcatalog of a few authors though.

      Yes I have changed it you must have popped by before I had set a piece about all the changes to go up. You haven’t lost your marbles, no fear ha, ha.

  20. “Remarkable Creatures” is absolutely wonderful. Before that I read “Burning Bright”. You’ll definitely satisfy your Victorian cravings there. I think I have read all her books. “The Girl With A Pearl Earring” is way, way better than the stupid movie. “The Virgin Blue” is good, and I thought “The Lady and the Unicorn” was great.

    As another commenter mentioned, Highgate Cemetery is featured in Audrey Niffenegger’s (sp??) “Her Fearful Symmetry”. Not in Victorian times though, but modern day.

    • It sounds like the movie of TGWTPE is a bit dire from all the reports I am hearing of it, it should be amazing as it has Colin Firth in it hee hee. Sounds like i have lots more great Chevalier reads though.

      I read Her Fearful Symmetery last year and really enjoyed that too. In both books Highgate is wonderfully depicted and in a way becomes a character in itself.

  21. This book looks really good! I loved the one book I’ve read by this author so that combined with your review means I should read this soon 🙂

  22. Simon, is Highgate the only area where children can play? Isn’t there a park for the kiddies?

    Loved reading about the cemetery.

    I will be posting pictures from a cemetery tour very soon. I think that the fences are Victorian.

    • Do you mean in the book or in real life Isabel? In the book they are just fascinated by it as a place fo mystery and adventure. I think thats how adults feel going in there now.

  23. Pingback: Latest Incomings « Savidge Reads

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