...a thoughtful exploration of the ways people misread each other by being trapped in their own perspectives.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
"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