tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
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Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers

The silence was holy. What did 'holy' mean? Did it mean the chance to be whole again? But when had one ever been whole?

A bit of an odd mixture this one, and I have to say that I wasn't always sure exactly what Vicker's was trying to achieve with it. On one level this is a gently paced and sensitive novel about growing old: Julia Garnet is a retired history teacher, and a confirmed spinster. When her flatmate and companion of thirty years dies she flees to Venice to recuperate. It is amongst the canals and piazzas of this unique city that she finds the space and strength to take stock of her life so far, finding also that it is not too late to find her former cautiousness, coldness and communist leanings challenged to the core. I enjoyed this character-focused aspect of the novel a lot. Vickers paints her melancholy protagonist in strokes that are, while not always flattering, still tinged with compassion. I also enjoyed the novel's biblical forays: Julia's exploration of the city brings to her attention a scene from the apocryphal story of Tobit, the biblical exile whose son, Tobias, is watched over and aided by the angel Raphael. Although I'm not religious I do enjoy many of the bible stories. Tobit was not one I'd previously been familiar with, so I appreciated the chance to hear this very interesting story retold (Tobit and his son's first person narratives are interlaced with chapters on Julia). What I found less convincing was Vickers' attempt to weave these two rather disparate plot threads together by attempting to make Julia's experiences in Venice parallel those of the apocryphal story. Many of the other people Julia meets seem to echo characters from Tobit, yet not strongly or coherently enough to really convince. Vickers notes at one point "perhaps when a thing is true it went on returning in different likenesses." It's a fascinating idea but not one, I felt, that is ultimately played out in the novel with any real depth or persuasiveness.

For me Miss Garnet's Angel is a slightly confused novel that never quite lives up to its grand intellectual conceits. But before I put you off totally, some of the descriptions of Venice are truly breathtaking. I've never visited the city myself so can't really comment on the accuracy of Vickers' depictions, but you absolutely can't fault the author on her passion for the place. Venice itself is really the main character in this book, and those of us who can't afford a trip there any time soon could probably do a lot worse than to read this book in order to enjoy a glimpse of its famous art, impressive architecture and troubled history.

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tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)

September 2010

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