If you believe in urchins happily united in the country dusk and reciting Blake to each other, then this book will persuade. Chevalier's villains are deep-dyed villains, her good people blindingly good; they go from innocence to experience with scarcely a hitch in their stride.
The Washington Post
A novel teeming with the complexities of life . . . Chevalier has a fine eye for detail and delightfully captures the sights, smells, and sounds of an earlier time.
A visual delight.
Chevalier's writing is most lively and supple when depicting adolescent sexuality. Indeed, this novel could comfortably be classified as juvenile fiction—a very honorable genre. . . . If she succeeds in acquainting a new generation with the rapturous work of William Blake on the eve of the 250th anniversary of his birth, she can take pride in her accomplishment.
Chevalier's signature talent lies in bringing alive the ordinary day-to-dayness of the past . . . lovingly evoked.
Chevalier masterfully evokes a sense of working class life . . . [in] French Revolution– era London.
A wonderfully vivid portrait of eighteenth-century London.
Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, set in the home/studio of Vermeer, and other novels, Chevalier turns in an oblique look at poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827). Following the accidental death of their middle son, the Kellaways, a Dorsetshire chair maker and family, arrive in London's Lambeth district during the anti-Jacobin scare of 1792. Thomas Kellaway talks his way into set design work for the amiable circus impresario Philip Astley, whose fireworks displays provide the same rallying point that the guillotine is providing in Paris. Astley's libertine horseman son, John, sets his sights on Kellaway's daughter, Maisie (an attention she rather demurely returns). Meanwhile, youngest surviving Kellaway boy Jem falls for poor, sexy firebrand Maggie Butterfield. Blake, who imagined heaven and hell as equally incandescent and earth as the point where the two worlds converge, is portrayed as a murky Friar Laurence figure whose task is to bind and loosen the skeins of young love going on around him-that is, until a Royalist mob intrudes into his garden to sound out his rather advanced views on liberty, equality and fraternity. While the setting is dramatically fertile, there's no spark to the dialogue or plot, and allusions to Blake's work and themes are overbaked. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Late 17th-century London comes alive in this latest offering from Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring). After a tragic death in the family, the Kellaways are persuaded by a traveling circus owner to move to the bustling city, where they discover that they live next door to the famous William Blake: printer, poet, and political radical. A streetwise girl named Maggie befriends the youngest boy, Jem, and their coming-of-age adventures eventually provide material for Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. In addition, the French Revolution has made everyone jittery, and the family is soon caught up in the excitement and uncertainty of political unrest; they also face economic hardship, struggling daily to earn enough to stay together. Chevalier's vivid descriptions and unusual mix of characters make this story an easy pleasure to read. The Blake connection, however, feels contrived and distracts from the plot, which weakens and loses steam after such a strong beginning-a minor quibble for fans of the genre or the author. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/06.]-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
A colorful historical novel considers the perils of life in 18th-century England. Georgian London might itself be the biggest character in Chevalier's latest (after The Lady and the Unicorn, 2004, etc.). Rogues and bounders, larger-than-life benefactors and unworldly country folk populate a story that gives prominence to a fictional portrait of William Blake but devotes many of its pages to the broad social panorama-circuses and mustard factories, Bedlam and Bunhill Fields Burying Ground. The Kellaway family has just arrived from rural Dorset after a death in the family. Thomas Kellaway, a chairmaker, has been offered work by circus entrepreneur Philip Astley: The Kellaway's son, Jem, assists his father with the carpentering, when not distracted by street-wise Maggie Butterfield; pretty daughter Maisie yearns for Astley's handsome, heartless son John. The Blakes live nearby in Lambeth, and Jem becomes acquainted with the kindly radical poet and engraver who sometimes wears a red cap in support of the revolution taking place in France. Not much happens: John tries to seduce Maisie; Maggie reveals a violent past; a mob attacks the Blakes for their politics. Chevalier echoes (and quotes from) Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, aspects of which are reflected in her characters, especially the various ruined or near-ruined women. Eventually, the Kellaways go home to Dorset, Astley joins the war in France and Maggie reveals a heart of gold. A story rich in background but lacking a compelling center.
Praise for Tracy Chevalier
"Evokes entire landscapes...a master of voices."
—New York Times Book Review (on Falling Angels)
"Absorbing...[Chevalier] creates a world reminiscent of a Vermeer interior: suspended in a particular moment, it transcends its time and place."
—The New Yorker (on Girl With a Pearl Earring)
“Chevalier admirably weaves historical figures and actual events into a compelling narrative.”
—San Francisco Chronicle (on Remarkable Creatures)
"Chevalier's signature talent lies in bringing alive the ordinary day-to-dayness of the past...lovingly evoked."
—Elle (on Burning Bright)
"Chevalier's ringing prose is as radiantly efficient as well-tended silver."
—Entertainment Weekly (on Falling Angels)