My first novel and first review of 2014 and I’m happy to report that this was a day of reading well spent. This is my first book by the author though I have heard a Plethora of good things about her previous bestseller- The Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The novel began at the turn of the century with the death of the Queen, Queen Victoria and all of England is mourning including two families with two young girls that are as different as day and night. The families met at their respectful graveside, coincidentally located beside each other, one decorated with an urn and the other with an angel. The novel follows the lives of two families, the Waterhouses and the Colemans along with several other characters such as the help and the young gravedigger boy. Through these character we view the lives of the upper and middle class families along with a significant part of the women’s suffrage movement of which Mrs Coleman was heavily involved.
Themes and Parallels
While reading this book there was so much I wanted to write about it as I became bombarded with themes and symbolism. The theme of death is the most dominant and forms the basis of the book. The novel start and ended with two very important deaths; that of the Queen Victoria and King Edward and the reader gets to see how different people reacted to them over just a short period. Some very important events, other than a funeral procession, happened in the cemetery which played a vital part in the overall plot of the book.
The Angel in the title could be quite literal as the Angel placed on top of the Waterhouses’ tomb chosen by Lavinia. That Angel eventually fell and its head broken off which was later put back together but of course the cracks would never go away. A deeper meaning to the Angel could be a symbol for both Kitty and Ivy May Waterhouse. Just like the Angel in the cemetery they too fell, Kitty through her own fault while little Ivy May that of her environment and the selfishness of her sister Lavinia.
This book is such a fine piece of literature that it immediately catapult me back to the days when I spend days writing essays for my Literature in English A Levels syllabus. This is way more fun though
I loved that the novel came full circle with the recovery of the friendship between Maude, Lavinia and Simon after it was effectively destroyed at the funeral of two people who was so dear to them both. Other strong themes were; Friendship,Loss, Tragedy, Sex, Class, Marriage, the role of the husband, family and some that I’m sure I’m missing somewhere.
Vantage Point and Characters
One thing that I loved about this book was how Chevalier allowed everyone to have a voice. The reader could hear the inner monologue of the housekeeper as she blackmail the mistress into keeping her on and about her activities in the cemetery when she took the girls there. There was the voice of the cook and how she felt about Kitty Coleman’s mother in law. Kitty Coleman and her neighbor Gertrude Waterhouse are as different as their daughters. We get to see what each thought about the other and how their husbands think of the while thing. which, they dont think much about it at all. I mean, they are men after all.
Whereas Kitty is rich and beautiful and scandalous in her mannerism and doesn’t seem to care, Gertrude is poor, not the prettiest and very conservative. Their daughters are the exact opposites of themselves that one is often led to believe one daughter belongs to the other woman and there ought to be some mix up somewhere.
The one comfort I could take -and it is a shameful one that I shall ask Gods forgiveness for- was that her daughter, Maude, is so plain. I felt proud to see Livy look so well next to drab little Maude. Gertrude Waterhouse
My favorite character in the novel is Simon the gravedigger boy. What I love about him is that throughout the novel he knew who he was from the very beginning and didn’t try to be anything thing else for anyone’s benefit. I like how unselfish he is and how unaffected he is about being a gravedigger for the rest of his life. To me Simon was that person in the novel that brought it all together. He had a link with all the other characters in one way or the other.
I could go on and on about this book. Clearly however let me just stop right here and implore you guys, go read it. The writing style is very interesting and the book is great.