Thursday, June 22, 2006
Falling Angels - Tracy Chevalier [June/06]
I just recently read Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and then this novel, the second one she wrote, won book of the month for the Historical Fiction forums that I belong to. It is only for next month, July, but since I am a little slow in reading this months, I decided to be early with next. While Girl with a Pearl Earring was about a painters life, this novel looks at a family.
From the back of the book:
Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, again dazzles us with an elegant and daring novel. Told through a variety of shifting perspectives - wives and husbands, friends and lovers, masters and servants, and a gravedigger's son -Falling Angels follows the fortunes of two families in the emerging years of the twentieth century, Chevalier's second novel is a superb follow-up to the bookThe New York Times called "marvelously evocative" and The Wall Street Journal deemed "triumphant."
This novel opens on the new year, 1901 to be exact. Kitty Coleman has woken up in bed by another man, her husband was trying to get her to let him back in her bed, and this is how he chose to attempt it, by swinging every New Year's until she comes back. This is the year that Queen Victoria has died, and the scene where the Coleman family goes to the graveyard is when the novel truly begins. Their 5-year-old daughter, Maude, meets Lavinia Waterhouse, the family that has the grave next to their's, and decides that she is going to be her best friend. It is two years, though, before their paths cross again, when the Waterhouse's move in next door to the Coleman's.
The families don't get along like normal neighbours tend to. Kitty does not like Gertrude Waterhouse, and Gertrude is jealous of the fact that the Coleman's have a bigger house. The husbands try and get along, it was actually the Coleman husband that told the Waterhouse husband about the new house in the first place. It is really the daughters that are the connecting forces to that house, spending their childhood together and growing into their teen years with one another.
Another character in the novel is Simon Field, a grave-diggers son. He meets Maude and Lavinia on the day that they come to the graveyard on the day that the queen has died. He makes appearances from then on, telling the story from his own eyes of these two family that by the end of the novel will face great tragedies, the both of them. The Coleman's servants also take up the story from time to time, so you can see the story from their eyes. Even Grandmother Coleman has her two cents in the novel from time to time.
It is really a novel about coming of age in a new century. Kitty becomes involved in the suffrage movement, Lavinia and Maude trying and make their differing personalities into an appropriate lifestyle, and the other characters get carried along with the action. There is also Ivy May Waterhouse, Lavinia's younger sister. She does not say much, but she is to become an important character to these two families and we help decide how they live out their future. Her quiet presence ends up making a big noise near the end of the book.
This novel does a wonderful job of showing the interaction of family members, friends, and servants, but at the same time captures what life is like in early 20th-century England. A great family novel and historical novel.