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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 30 August 2013

"The Cleaner of Chartres" by Salley Vickers

I have already enjoyed Vickers' Miss Garnet's Angel (five out of five) and Mr Golightly's Holiday (4.5 out of 5); she is an excellent novelist with an unusually lyrical style and an interestingly religious perspective on the world.

In this book, Agnes cleans Chartres Cathedral and private homes for a variety of interesting characters. Her story is interwoven with flashbacks to her history: her foundling origin, her convent upbringing, her illegitimate child, her alleged crime and her stays in mental hospitals.

In the present a variety of individuals, from villainous Madame Beck to heroic Abbe Paul, interact with Agnes and with one another. The past haunts the present. The tragedy builds. Will the holy innocent become the sacrificial scapegoat?

If you have read Vickers before you will recognise themes and characters. As in Miss Garnet's Angel there is a good-looking young man on a scaffold restoring art. As in Mr Golightly's Holiday and Miss Garnett's Angel, religion is an important theme; people consider and reconsider the nature of their relationship with God. Organised religion gets a bad press: the convent probably does more harm than good and most of the priests and nuns question their vocation. Paganism comes out well: there was a Platonic school at Chartres and Agnes cleans the famous labyrinth.

Some characters develop and grow but others (the good Abbe and the villainous Madame Beck are the obvious) are stereotypes.

All in all, therefore, this book disappointed me a little; it seemed to be a reworking of ideas Vickers had already explored. Nevertheless, it is a good read; I finished it within a day. Most of all it retains flashes of the Vickers beauty: the luminous and numinous prose which makes one want to slow down to savour.

August 2013; 297 pages


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