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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review of The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

Agnes has lived in the sleepy town of Chartres for years. She has become ingrained in the fabric of the community; she cleans the tiled floor of the cathedral, acts as muse and model for a local artist, organises the correspondence of a befuddled academic and does the occasional spot of babysitting. But despite her involvement, the townspeople know little about this tall, elegant, stoic woman with turquoise eyes and matching pendant always around her neck. No one knows where she came from, or what stories she may have brought with her to Chartres. She is indispensable to them, but completely enigmatic.

But Agnes can’t stop the tide of gossip that comes with small-town life. When the local busybody takes a dislike to her, Agnes’s past comes stretching up into the light. What is revealed is an incredible story of grief and loss, but one that also reveals the way in which small acts of kindness can shape a person’s path in life.

My thoughts:
This is a beautiful moving novel with depth
Agnes Morel is an unlikely main character in a novel - quiet unassuming and middle-aged. The beginning of the book is slow with lengthy descriptions of Chartres Cathedral and not much dialogue, so at first I thought I would struggle to make it to the end. But I loved Miss Garnet's Angel so I persevered and was more than richly rewarded.

The characters of the nuns with all their un-saintly quirks and human failings are acutely well-drawn and Agnes's past as it is gradually revealed is horrifying yet utterly believable. Her malicious neighbours are described with gleeful venom. The characters in this book slowly seeped into my imagination and soon had me in an iron grip so that I had to know what would happen to Agnes when her unfortunate past was uncovered. 

This is a beautiful portrait of small-mindedness in all its ways, but it is also a vehicle to tackle the really big questions, such as: Where does evil lie? What constitutes sin? How is the spirit of a religion preserved in its buildings? What is the power of truthfulness?

I'll certainly be looking forward to Salley Vickers's next.

The soaring arches of  Chartres Cathedral

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this very thorough review. I liked Miss Garnet's Angel and after reading your review I think I may like The Cleaner of Chartres too. Cheers :) ps great pic of the inside of the cathedral.