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Falling Angels

Falling Angels

3.9 64
by Tracy Chevalier

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New York Times bestseller

From the author of the international bestseller Girl With A Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier once again paints a distant age with a rich and provocative palette of characters.

Falling Angels follows the fortunes of two families in the emerging years of


New York Times bestseller

From the author of the international bestseller Girl With A Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier once again paints a distant age with a rich and provocative palette of characters.

Falling Angels follows the fortunes of two families in the emerging years of the twentieth century in England, while the Queen's death reverberates through a changing nation. Told through a variety of shifting perspectives—wives and husbands, friends and lovers, masters and their servants, and a gravedigger's son—Falling Angels is graced with the luminous imagery that distinguished Girl With a Pearl Earring, Falling Angels is another dazzling tour de force from this "master of voices" (The New York Times Book Review).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Entirely successful: distinct, inhabited, vivid, and real." —The Washington Post Book World

"Chevalier's ringing prose is a radiantly efficient as well-tended silver." —Entertainment Weekly

"Chevalier not only authentically details the era's social mores, tensions, and contradictions, she writes the book we want to read." —New York Daily News

"I read Falling Angels in an afternoon. The next day, I sat down and read it again." —Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times Book Review

"Brilliant...a rich story that is true to the era." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Chevalier's second novel confirms her place in the literary firmament...deeply affecting.... This is a beautiful novel, not soon forgotten." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Part of the secret of Chevalier's success is her uncanny ability to bring a lost world to life.... Just as Vermeer's work helps to explain his world in Chevalier's earlier novel, so the symbolic art of the graveyard illuminates Victorian culture in Falling Angels." —The Baltimore Sun

"Accomplished and powerful..." —Booklist


The bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring dazzles readers once again with an elegant, daring, and compelling story of politics, prejudices, and family life in early Edwardian London.
...a thoughtful exploration of the ways people misread each other by being trapped in their own perspectives.
Janice P. Nimura
I read Falling Angels in an afternoon. The next day, I sat down and read it again. For several days afterward, I found myself revisiting its people and places, as if I'd just returned from travelling. This is Tracy Chevalier's singular gift: through the particular perspectives of a few finely drawn characters, she is able to evoke entire landscapes...Chevalier manages to delve beneath what we think we know about turn-of-the-century Britons -- there are no stock characters here, none who are perfectly comfortable in the niche society has assigned them.
New York Times Book Review
Spanning the years 1901 to 1910, this book by the author of Girl With a Pearl Earring begins at a New Year's party, where several guests engage in wife swapping. Richard Coleman, thinking jealousy might motivate his lovely wife, Kitty, to let him back into her bed, decides to participate. But Kitty, who has become emotionally and intellectually restless, remains unimpressed with her husband. One day, during a visit to a nearby cemetery, the Colemans meet the Waterhouses, owners of the family plot next to theirs. Despite their class differences, Kitty's five-year-old daughter, Maude, becomes friendly with the Waterhouses' self-dramatizing elder daughter, Lavinia, with whom she begins to spend time exploring the cemetery grounds. Meanwhile, Kitty, who feels increasingly trapped in her marriage, meets suffragette Caroline Black. Kitty's passionate decision to join the feminist cause changes her life but ultimately leads to tragedy. Told from alternating points of view, this moving, bittersweet book flaunts Chevalier's gift for creating complex characters and an engaging plot.
—Ann Collette

Publishers Weekly
No small part of the appeal of Chevalier's excellent debut, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was its plausibility; readers could readily accept the idea that Vermeer's famous painting might indeed have been created under circumstances similar to Chevalier's imaginative scenario. The same cannot be said about her second novel. While Chevalier again proves adept at evoking a historical era this time, London at the turn of the 19th century she has devised a plot whose contrivances stretch credibility. When Maude Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse, both five years of age, meet at their families' adjoining cemetery plots on the day after Queen Victoria's death, the friendship that results between sensitive, serious-minded Maude and narcissistic, melodramatic Livy is not unlikely, despite the difference in social classes. But the continuing presence in their lives of a young gravedigger, Simon Field, is. Far too cheeky for a boy of his age and class, Simon plays an important part in the troubles that will overtake the two families. Other characters are gifted with insights inappropriate to their age or station in life. Yet Chevalier again proves herself an astute observer of a social era, especially in her portrayal of the lingering sentimentality, prejudices and early stirrings of social change of the Victorian age. When Maude's mother, Kitty, becomes obsessively involved with the emerging suffragette movement, the plot gathers momentum. While it's obvious that tragedy is brewing, Chevalier shows imaginative skill in two neatly accomplished surprises, and the denouement packs an emotional wallop. While not as accomplished a work as Girl, the ironies inherent in the dramatic unfolding of two families'lives ultimately endow this novel with an impressive moral vision. Agent, Deborah Schneider. (Oct. 15) Forecast: The popularity of Girl with a Pearl Earring among reading groups and its record as a bestseller will provide a ready audience for Chevalier's new effort. The perennial appeal of books set in post-Victorian England should be another asset. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
When they are five years old, Maude Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse have an odd first meeting. On the day after Queen Victoria's death, their families visit the cemetery—as is the custom in 1901 London—and realize that their family plots border one another. Maude and Lavinia become fast friends, but it is not until the Colemans move in next door to the Waterhouses that the two girls' lives and those of their families become fully entwined. The reader becomes privy to the goings-on inside each girl's home as the years pass,—their mothers' inadequacies and indiscretions, their fathers' indifference, and even their servants' foibles. Scandal and deceit play large parts in their lives, yet they maintain a façade of normalcy to fool the public into believing that all is well with their well-to-do families. Eventually, the façade crumbles, and through madness, death, and the divulgence of long-kept secrets, Maude and Lavinia learn what it is to survive. Told in turn by each character, this book is full of intrigue and disillusionment, saving face and making hard choices. The women's suffrage movement also is featured and adds to the flavor of the story's historical element. Author of the acclaimed Girl in Hyacinth Blue (MacMurray and Beck, 1999/VOYA October 2000), Chevalier captures each character's voice with such precision that the reader feels compelled to savor every page. Older teenage readers will be alternately appalled and enticed by the characters' trials and misdeeds. Chevalier creates truly magnificent literature. 2001, Dutton, 256p, Paone
Library Journal
January 1901. Queen Victoria is one day dead; two families visit their respective family graves to mourn, and two girls meet, become friends, and bring their relatives together in unexpected ways. As in her first novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier excels at capturing subtle social nuances and setting historical scenes. Key among the characters who narrate parts of the story is beautiful and frustrated Kitty Coleman, who, as the times shift from Victorian to modern, embraces the change with a bid for personal freedom. Her secrets and lies have disastrous consequences. The novel is infused with enriching details the proper fabric for mourning handkerchiefs, how to host an "at home" (an open house), and the route the suffragettes took on their march to Hyde Park. Like an E.M. Forster novel filtered through a modern sensibility, Falling Angels takes us back to the early 20th century and keeps us there, waiting to see what Kitty and her crowd will do next. Boldly plotted and beautifully written, this impressive novel is highly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Yvette W. Olson, City Univ. Lib., Renton, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-An insightful look at the social, political, and economic issues of Edwardian England as well as a compelling story with well-drawn characters. Three children form an unlikely friendship in a London cemetery. The family of five-year-old Maude Coleman has a plot adjoining that of the family of five-year-old Lavinia Waterhouse. Both families are uncomfortable with the other's choice of memorial. The Waterhouses' sentimental angel offends the Colemans' more elegant taste and their ornate urn is seen as pretentious by their neighbors. Petty irritations concerning the mourning dress of the women on the occasion of Queen Victoria's death emphasize the superficial constraints of English society and ironically foreshadow societal changes to come. The two children from similar backgrounds but different social classes are drawn to one another and to the young son of the cemetery's caretaker, clearly an unsuitable playmate by the standards of the day. Simon is as outrageous and worldly as Maude and Lavinia are cautious and innocent. Over the next 10 years, the girls become close companions whose favorite activity is to cavort with Simon among the tombstones. The children, their parents, and the other minor but significant characters provide short narratives that begin with superficial concerns deeply felt and end with a series of tragic events. The changes in first-person voice are effective in portraying the characters' emotions as they interact and serve as an interesting device to move the plot. Teens will anguish over the fate of Maude's mother and Lavinia's sister and shake their heads as they ponder the consequences of the customs and mores of those earlier times.-Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Chevalier's enormous hit with Vermeer and the 17th century (Girl With a Pearl Earring, 2000) is followed by a novel so familiar-the forces of change at 19th- century's end put cracks in domestic life-that the hyperverisimilitude of its period-color seems almost done by number. Things aren't going so well in Kitty and Richard Coleman's marriage, though by appearances all's fine: they're a respectable couple in London's middle-high society, live in a fine house, keep maid and cook, and remind readers of the upstairs family in, well, Upstairs, Downstairs. But under the surface is what matters-fulfillment, self-expression, dynamism, sex-and that's where Richard Coleman, though charming as fiance, reveals himself to be old-fashioned, "ordinary," even authoritarian as husband. When Kitty withdraws from him sexually, the germ of plot-trouble is sown-and would seem to be reaped when Kitty's single fling brings her the need of a secret abortion that's followed by long, deep depression and dire health. But really it's just the start, for when Kitty discovers and then actively joins the Suffragists, her health and life are both transformed-though Richard grows only the more angry and disapproving at the folly and impropriety of it all. As events move toward a terrible end (there's a vast Suffragist rally, a freak accident, two awful deaths) Chevalier proves herself ringmaster of the symbols she puts through their paces: the London cemetery, for example, that functions as social center (people stroll through to admire their families' urns and angels), brings Kitty to her single-fling lover (he's the graveyard manager), and provides a playground for young daughter Maude to meet her vain friendLavinia, a kind of Becky Sharp of the past to Maude's gradually emerging prototype of the educated woman of the future. All takes place between the death of Victoria and the death of Edward, time when one world was born, one died, and houses got electricity and phones. Chevalier offers pleasures enough, indeed, though on an outing taken countless times before.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.72(w) x 4.96(h) x 0.86(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kitty Coleman

    I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed. The head of blond hair beside me was decidedly not my husband's. I did not know whether to be shocked or amused.

    Well, I thought, here's a novel way to begin the new century.

    Then I remembered the evening before and felt rather sick. I wondered where Richard was in this huge house and how we were meant to swap back. Everyone else here—the man beside me included—was far more experienced in the mechanics of these matters than I. Than we. Much as Richard bluffed last night, he was just as much in the dark as me, though he was more keen. Much more keen. It made me wonder.

    I nudged the sleeper with my elbow, gently at first and then harder until at last he woke with a snort.

    "Out you go," I said. And he did, without a murmur. Thankfully he didn't try to kiss me. How I stood that beard last night I'll never remember—the claret helped, I suppose. My cheeks are red with scratches.

    When Richard came in a few minutes later, clutching his clothes in a bundle, I could barely look at him. I was embarrassed, and angry too—angry that I should feel embarrassed and yet not expect him to feel so as well. It was all the more infuriating that he simply kissed me, said, "Hello, darling," and began to dress, I could smell her perfume on his neck.

    Yet I could say nothing. As I myself have so often said, I am open minded—I pride myself on it. Those words bite now.

    I lay watching Richard dress, and found myself thinking of my brother. Harry always used to tease me for thinking too much—though he refused to concede that he was at all responsible for encouraging me. But all those evenings spent reviewing with me what his tutors had taught him in the morning—he said it was to help him remember it—what did that do but teach me to think and speak my mind? Perhaps he regretted it later. I shall never know now. I am only just out of mourning for him, but some days it feels as if I am still clutching that telegram.

    Harry would be mortified to see where his teaching has led. Not that one has to be clever for this sort of thing—most of them downstairs are stupid as buckets of coal, my blond beard among them. Not one could I have a proper conversation with—I had to resort to the wine.

    Frankly I'm relieved not to be of this set—to paddle in its shallows occasionally is quite enough for me. Richard I suspect feels differently, but he has married the wrong wife if he wanted that sort of life. Or perhaps it is I who chose badly—though I would never have thought so once, back when we were mad for each other.

    I think Richard has made me do this to show me he is not as conventional as I feared. But it has had the opposite effect on me. He has become everything I had not thought he would be when we married. He has become ordinary.

    I feel so flat this morning. Daddy and Harry would have laughed at me, but I secretly hoped that the change in the century would bring a change in us all; that England would miraculously slough off her shabby black coat to reveal something glittering and new. It is only eleven hours into the twentieth century, yet I know very well that nothing has changed but a number.

    Enough. They are to ride today, which is not for me—I shall escape with my coffee to the library. It will undoubtedly be empty.

Richard Coleman

    I thought being with another woman would bring Kitty back, that jealousy would open her bedroom door to me again. Yet two weeks later she has not let me in any more than before.

    I do not like to think that I am a desperate man, but I do not understand why my wife is being so difficult. I have provided a decent life for her and yet she is still unhappy, though she cannot—or will not—say why.

    It is enough to drive any man to change wives, if only for a night.

Maude Coleman

    When Daddy saw the angel on the grave next to ours he cried, "What the devil?"

    Mummy just laughed.

    I looked and looked until my neck ached. It hung above us, one foot forward, a hand pointing toward heaven. It was wearing a long robe with a square neck, and it had loose hair that flowed onto its wings. It was looking down toward me, but no matter how hard I stared it did not seem to see me.

    Mummy and Daddy began to argue. Daddy does not like the angel. I don't know if Mummy likes it or not—she didn't say. I think the urn Daddy has had put on our own grave bothers her more.

    I wanted to sit down but didn't dare. It was very cold, too cold to sit on stone, and besides, the Queen is dead, which I think means no one can sit down, or play, or do anything comfortable.

    I heard the bells ringing last night when I was in bed, and when Nanny came in this morning she told me the Queen died yesterday evening. I ate my porridge very slowly, to see if it tasted different from yesterday's, now that the Queen is gone. But it tasted just the same—too salty. Mrs. Baker always makes it that way.

    Everyone we saw on our way to the cemetery was dressed in black. I wore a gray wool dress and a white pinafore, which I might have worn anyway but which Nanny said was fine for a girl to wear when someone died. Girls don't have to wear black. Nanny helped me to dress. She let me wear my black-and-white plaid coat and matching hat, but she wasn't sure about my rabbit's-fur muff, and I had to ask Mummy, who said it didn't matter what I wore. Mummy wore a blue silk dress and wrap, which did not please Daddy.

    While they were arguing about the angel I buried my face in my muff. The fur is very soft. Then I heard a noise, like stone being tapped, and when I raised my head I saw a pair of blue eyes looking at me from over the headstone next to ours. I stared at them, and then the face of a boy appeared from behind the stone. His hair was full of mud, and his cheeks were dirty with it too. He winked at me, then disappeared behind the headstone.

    I looked at Mummy and Daddy, who had walked a little way up the path to view the angel from another place. They had not seen the boy. I walked backward between the graves, my eyes on them. When I was sure they were not looking I ducked behind the stone.

    The boy was leaning against it, sitting on his heels.

    "Why do you have mud in your hair?" I asked.

    "Been down a grave," he said.

    I looked at him closely. There was mud on him everywhere—on his jacket, on his knees, on his shoes. There were even bits of it in his eyelashes.

    "Can I touch the fur?" he asked.

    "It's a muff," I said. "My muff."

    "Can I touch it?"

    "No." Then I felt bad saying that, so I held out the muff.

    The boy spit on his fingers and wiped them on his jacket, then reached out and stroked the fur.

    "What were you doing down a grave?" I asked.

    "Helping our pa."

    "What does your father do?"

    "He digs the graves, of course. I helps him."

    Then we heard a sound, like a kitten mewing. We peeked over the headstone and a girl standing in the path looked straight into my eyes, just as I had with the boy. She was dressed all in black, and was very pretty, with bright brown eyes and long lashes and creamy skin. Her brown hair was long and curly and so much nicer than mine, which hangs flat like laundry and isn't one color or another. Grandmother calls mine ditch-water blond, which may be true but isn't very kind. Grandmother always speaks her mind.

    The girl reminded me of my favorite chocolates, whipped hazelnut creams, and I knew just from looking at her that I wanted her for my best friend. I don't have a best friend, and have been praying for one. I have often wondered, as I sit in St. Anne's getting colder and colder (why are churches always cold?), if prayers really work, but it seems this time God has answered them.

    "Use your handkerchief, Livy dear, there's a darling." The girl's mother was coming up the path, holding the hand of a younger girl. A tall man with a ginger beard followed them. The younger girl was not so pretty. Though she looked like the other girl, her chin was not so pointed, her hair not so curly, her lips not so big. Her eyes were hazel rather than brown, and she looked at everything as if nothing surprised her. She spotted the boy and me immediately.

    "Lavinia," the older girl said, shrugging her shoulders and tossing her head so that her curls bounced. "Mama, I want you and Papa to call me Lavinia, not Livy."

    I decided then and there that I would never call her Livy.

    "Don't be rude to your mother, Livy," the man said. "You're Livy to us and that's that. Livy is a fine name. When you're older we'll call you Lavinia."

    Lavinia frowned at the ground.

    "Now stop all this crying," he continued. "She was a good queen and she lived a long life, but there's no need for a girl of five to weep quite so much. Besides, you'll frighten Ivy May." He nodded at the sister.

    I looked at Lavinia again. As far as I could see she was not crying at all, though she was twisting a handkerchief around her fingers. I waved at her to come.

    Lavinia smiled. When her parents turned their backs she stepped off the path and behind the headstone.

    "I'm five as well," I said when she was standing next to us. "Though I'll be six in March."

    "Is that so?" Lavinia said. "I'll be six in February."

    "Why do you call your parents Mama and Papa? I call mine Mummy and Daddy."

    "Mama and Papa is much more elegant." Lavinia stared at the boy, who was kneeling by the headstone. "What is your name, please?"

    "Maude," I answered before I realized she was speaking to the boy.


    "You are a very dirty boy."

    "Stop," I said.

    Lavinia looked at me. "Stop what?"

    "He's a gravedigger, that's why he's muddy."

    Lavinia took a step backward.

    "An apprentice gravedigger," Simon said. "I was a mute for the undertakers first, but our pa took me on once I could use a spade."

    "There were three mutes at my grandmother's funeral," Lavinia said. "One of them was whipped for laughing."

    "My mother says there are not so many funerals like that anymore," I said. "She says they are too dear and the money should be spent on the living."

    "Our family always has mutes at its funerals. I shall have mutes at mine."

    "Are you dying, then?" Simon asked.

    "Of course not!"

    "Did you leave your nanny at home as well?" I asked, thinking we should talk about something else before Lavinia got upset and left.

    She flushed. "We don't have a nanny. Mama is perfectly able to look after us herself."

    I didn't know any children who didn't have a nanny.

    Lavinia was looking at my muff. "Do you like my angel, then?" she asked. "My father let me choose it."

    "My father doesn't like it," I declared, though I knew I shouldn't repeat what Daddy had said. "He called it sentimental nonsense."

    Lavinia frowned. "Well, Papa hates your urn. Anyway, what's wrong with my angel?"

    "I like it," the boy said.

    "So do I," I lied.

    "I think it's lovely." Lavinia sighed. "When I go to heaven I want to be taken up by an angel just like that."

    "It's the nicest angel in the cemetery," the boy said. "And I know 'em all. There's thirty-one of 'em. D'you want me to show 'em to you?"

    "Thirty-one is a prime number," I said. "It isn't divisible by anything except one and itself." Daddy had just explained to me about prime numbers, though I hadn't understood it all.

    Simon took a piece of coal from his pocket and began to draw on the back of the headstone. Soon he had drawn a skull and crossbones—round eye-sockets, a black triangle for a nose, rows of square teeth, and a shadow scratched on one side of the face.

    "Don't do that," I said. He ignored me. "You can't do that."

    "I have. Lots. Look at the stones all round us."

    I looked at our family grave. At the very bottom of the plinth that held the urn, a tiny skull and crossbones had been scratched. Daddy would be furious if he knew it was there. I saw then that every stone around us had a skull and crossbones on it. I had never seen them before.

    "I'm going to draw one on every grave in the cemetery," he continued.

    "Why do you draw them?" I asked. "Why a skull and crossbones?"

    "Reminds you what's underneath, don't it? It's all bones down there, whatever you may put on the grave."

    "Naughty boy," Lavinia said.

    Simon stood up. "I'll draw one for you," he said. "I'll draw one on the back of your angel."

    "Don't you dare," Lavinia said.

    Simon immediately dropped the piece of coal.

    Lavinia looked around as if she were about to leave.

    "I know a poem," Simon said suddenly.

    "What poem? Tennyson?"

    "Dunno whose son. It's like this:

There was a young man at Nunhead
Who awoke in his coffin of lead;
'It is cosy enough,'
He remarked in a huff,
'But I wasn't aware I was dead.'"

    "Ugh! That's disgusting!" Lavinia cried. Simon and I laughed.

    "Our pa says lots of people've been buried alive," Simon said. "He says he's heard 'em, scrabbling inside their coffins as he's tossing dirt on 'em."

    "Really? Mummy's afraid of being buried alive," I said.

    "I can't bear to hear this," Lavinia cried, covering her ears. "I'm going back." She went through the graves toward her parents. I wanted to follow her but Simon began talking again.

    "Our granpa's buried here in the meadow."

    "He never was."

    "He is."

    "Show me his grave."

    Simon pointed at a row of wooden crosses over the path from us. Paupers' graves—Mummy had told me about them, explaining that land had been set aside for people who had no money to pay for a proper plot.

    "Which cross is his?" I asked.

    "He don't have one. Cross don't last. We planted a rosebush there, so we always know where he is. Stole it from one of the gardens down the bottom of the hill."

    I could see a stump of a bush, cut right back for the winter. We live at the bottom of the hill, and we have lots of roses at the front. Perhaps that rosebush was ours.

    "He worked here too," Simon said. "Same as our pa and me. Said it's the nicest cemetery in London. Wouldn't have wanted to be buried in any of t'others. He had stories to tell about t'others. Piles of bones everywhere. Bodies buried with just a sack of soil over 'em. Phew, the smell!" Simon waved his hand in front of his nose. "And men snatching bodies in the night. Here he were at least safe and sound, with the boundary wall being so high, and the spikes on top."

    "I have to go now," I said. I didn't want to look scared like Lavinia, but I didn't like hearing about the smell of bodies.

    Simon shrugged. "I could show you things."

    "Maybe another time." I ran to catch up with our families, who were walking along together. Lavinia took my hand and squeezed it and I was so pleased I kissed her.

    As we walked hand-in-hand up the hill I could see out of the corner of my eye a figure like a ghost jumping from stone to stone, following us and then running ahead. I wished we had not left him.

    I nudged Lavinia. "He's a funny boy, isn't he?" I said, nodding at his shadow as he went behind an obelisk.

    "I like him," Lavinia said, "even if he talks about awful things."

    "Don't you wish we could run off the way he does?"

    Lavinia smiled at me. "Shall we follow him?"

    I hadn't expected her to say that. I glanced at the others—only Lavinia's sister was looking at us. "Let's," I whispered.

    She squeezed my hand as we ran off to find him.

Kitty Coleman

    I don't dare tell anyone or I will be accused of treason, but I was terribly excited to hear the Queen is dead. The dullness I have felt since New Year's vanished, and I had to work very hard to appear appropriately sober. The turning of the century was merely a change in numbers, but now we shall have a true change in leadership, and I can't help but think Edward is more truly representative of us than his mother.

    For now, though, nothing has changed—we were expected to troop up to the cemetery and make a show of mourning, even though none of the Royal Family is buried there, nor is the Queen to be. Death is there, and that is enough, I suppose.

    That blasted cemetery. I have never liked it.

    To be fair, it is not the fault of the place itself, which has a lugubrious charm, with its banks of graves stacked on top of one another—granite headstones, Egyptian obelisks, Gothic spires, plinths topped with columns, weeping ladies, angels, and of course, urns—winding up the hill to the glorious Lebanon cedar at the top. I am even willing to overlook some of the more preposterous monuments—ostentatious representations of a family's status. But the sentiments that the place encourages in mourners are too overblown for my taste. Moreover, it is the Colemans' cemetery, not my family's. I miss the little churchyard in Lincolnshire where Mummy and Daddy are buried and where there is now a stone for Harry, even if his body lies somewhere in southern Africa.

    The excess of it all—which our own ridiculous urn now contributes to—is too much. How utterly out of scale it is to its surroundings! If only Richard had consulted me first. It was unlike him—for all his faults he is a rational man, and must have seen that the urn was too big. I suspect the hand of his mother in the choosing. Her taste has always been formidable.

    It was amusing today to watch him splutter over the angel that has been erected on the grave next to the urn. (Far too close to it, as it happens—they look as if they may bash each other at any moment.) It was all I could do to keep a straight face.

    "How dare they inflict their taste on us!" he said. "The thought of having to look at this sentimental nonsense every time we visit turns my stomach."

    "It is sentimental, but harmless," I replied "At least the marble's Italian."

    "I don't give a hang about the marble! I don't want that angel next to our grave."

    "Have you thought that perhaps they're saying the same about the urn?"

    "There's nothing wrong with our urn!"

    "And they would say that there's nothing wrong with their angel."

    "The angel looks ridiculous next to the urn. It's far too close, for one thing."

    "Exactly," I said. "You didn't leave them room for anything."

    "Of course I did. Another urn would have looked fine. Perhaps a slightly smaller one."

    I raised my eyebrows the way I do when Maude has said something foolish. "Or even the same size," Richard conceded. "Yes, that could have looked quite impressive, a pair of urns. Instead we have this nonsense."

    And on and on we went. While I don't think much of the blank-faced angels dotted around the cemetery, they bother me less than the urns, which seem a peculiar thing to put on a grave when one thinks that they were used by the Romans as receptacles for human ashes. A pagan symbol for a Christian society. But then, so is all the Egyptian symbolism one sees here as well. When I pointed this out to Richard he huffed and puffed but had no response other than to say, "That urn adds dignity and grace to the Coleman grave."

    I don't know about that. Utter banality and misplaced symbolism are rather more like it. I had the sense not to say so.

    He was still going on about the angel when who should appear but its owners, dressed in full mourning. Albert and Gertrude Waterhouse—no relation to the painter, they admitted. (Just as well—I want to scream when I see his overripe paintings at the Tate. The Lady of Shalott in her boat looks as if she has just taken opium.) We had never met them before, though they have owned their grave for several years. They are rather nondescript—he a ginger-bearded, smiling type, she one of those short women whose waists have been ruined by children so that their dresses never fit properly. Her hair is crinkly rather than curly, and escapes its pins.

    Her elder daughter, Lavinia, who looks to be Maude's age, has lovely hair, glossy brown and curly. She's a bossy, spoiled little thing—apparently her father bought the angel at her insistence. Richard nearly choked where he heard this. And she was wearing a black dress trimmed with crepe—rather vulgar and unnecessary for a child that young.

    Of course Maude has taken an instant liking to the girl. When we all took a turn around the cemetery together Lavinia kept dabbing at her eyes with a black-edged handkerchief, weeping as we passed the grave of a little boy dead fifty years, I just hope Maude doesn't begin copying her. I can't bear such nonsense. Maude is very sensible but I could see how attracted she was to the girl's behavior. They disappeared off together—Lord knows what they got up to. They came back the best of friends.

    I think it highly unlikely Gertrude Waterhouse and I would ever be the best of friends. When she said yet again how sad it was about the Queen, I couldn't help but comment that Lavinia seemed to be enjoying her mourning tremendously.

    Gertrude Waterhouse said nothing for a moment, then remarked, "That's a lovely dress. Such an unusual shade of blue."

    Richard snorted. We'd had a fierce argument about my dress. In truth I was now rather embarrassed about my choice—not one adult I'd seen since leaving the house was wearing anything but black. My dress was dark blue, but still I stood out far more than I'd intended

—Reprinted from Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier by permission of Plume, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Tracy Chevalier. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Entirely successful: distinct, inhabited, vivid, and real." —The Washington Post Book World

"Chevalier's ringing prose is a radiantly efficient as well-tended silver." —Entertainment Weekly

"Chevalier not only authentically details the era's social mores, tensions, and contradictions, she writes the book we want to read." —New York Daily News

"I read Falling Angels in an afternoon. The next day, I sat down and read it again." —Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times Book Review

"Brilliant...a rich story that is true to the era." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Chevalier's second novel confirms her place in the literary firmament...deeply affecting.... This is a beautiful novel, not soon forgotten." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Part of the secret of Chevalier's success is her uncanny ability to bring a lost world to life.... Just as Vermeer's work helps to explain his world in Chevalier's earlier novel, so the symbolic art of the graveyard illuminates Victorian culture in Falling Angels." —The Baltimore Sun

"Accomplished and powerful..." —Booklist


Meet the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

Brief Biography

London, England
Date of Birth:
October 19, 1962
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994

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Falling Angels 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The sample of this book was 1 sentence. One of the reasons I "Love my Nook",is that I can sample a book in the comfort of my home,before, I decide if I would like to purchase it or not. Samples of the books has been a wonderful tool for me, but some samples( like this one) are so frustrating. I realize I can get in the car,and run to the book store, but my choice was the Nook. And,I would not write this if it were the first time the sample has been so short. Please, B&N make the samples worthwhile. Does anyone else agree? MC
GabrielRE More than 1 year ago
A bewitching tale told thru the eyes of two turn-of-the century London families. Tracy Chevalier makes you feel like you are observing them from the outside under a glass yet at the same time she makes you feel like you are taking sides and routing for one or the other family members. She tells this story through a variety of shifting perspectives of wives and husbands, friends and lovers, masters and servants and she manages to keep each character superbly under prospective...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read every one of Tracy Chaevalier's books (except Virgin Blue, which I plan start in a few days) and I have to say this is probably my least favorite. It was good, but I never felt that 'can't put it down' feeling I had with ' The Girl with the Pearl Earring' and 'The Lady and the Unicorn'. But like I said it's a good book in it's own standing, I just felt compared to her other works it was the weakest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Beautiful, ingenious writing and totally unpredictable. Simply unforgettable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was slightly slow to begin, but once you got into it, it was very interesting. I enjoyed the different views of each character. You almost came to become personal with them. My only complaint is that the ending wasn't an ending. It left unanswered questions and felt as though the development of the characters could have been extended to some point.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I struggled to stick with this book at first, but after I finished it, I was glad I did. Just enough detail, strong symbolism, and hints of greater truths.
Guest More than 1 year ago
it was not as captivating as 'the lady and the unicorn' bu tdefinatly a good read.
Anonymous 7 months ago
This book had me from the very beginning. I couldn't put it down. I felt as if I was right there with the main character(s) the entire time
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I've read several of her books, this one is horribly boring
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MJTanampai More than 1 year ago
the best author and great book!
K_Amberly More than 1 year ago
This is the second book of hers that I have read, and again, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I appreciate Chevalier's ability to immerse the reader another era and connect the reader to the characters and a historic event. Falling Angels takes place in the first decade of the 20th century in England when the women's suffrage movement gained momentum. Chevalier's very clever in her story telling as she draws the reader into the story and connects us to the characters, but then suddenly something unexpected happens. For me, Falling Angels is a reminder about the unpredicability of life and choices, no matter the century.
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