Miss Garnet's Angel
Author: Salley Vickers
Goodreads Rating: 3.71
Publisher: Harper Perennial
If you spend most of your life alone you do not know that you are lonely.... A shimmering first novel of self-discovery, of redemption from numb solitude, and of the matchless consolations to be found in human connection and spiritual nourishment, Miss Garnet's Angel limns-with uncommon subtlety and an engaging, often subversive wit-the thematic parallels and intersections that bind an ancient tale from the Apocrypha to a modern-day narrative about a retired British spinster on sojourn in Venice. A word-of-mouth bestseller and a critics' favorite on both sides of the Atlantic, Salley Vickers' resonant debut achieves something that has become all too rare in recent years: a wholesale blurring of the line distinguishing the "popular" from the "literary" on today's fiction shelves.
Miss Julia Garnet is a retired history teacher who, as we learn in the opening pages of the novel, has been practicing economies of the spirit for a lifetime. A virgin in her sixties, she is still haunted by the spectre of her tyrannical, abusive father. It has been her belief that there are two kinds of people in the world: those willing to tangle with their fate, who endeavor to shape the course of life, and those who bear their circumstances with little or no struggle. Now, unmoored by the sudden death of Harriet Josephs-for more than thirty years Julia's companion in a small West London flat-Miss Garnet decides to spend six months in Venice. It is a decision that sparks an exhilarating adventure of the soul. With this opening, author Salley Vickers sweeps us away into a mesmerizing narrative about the dissolution of prudence, the discarding of worn categories, and the challenging of dogmasthat leave no room for wonder or transcendence.
The greatest wisdoms are not those which are written down but those which are passed between human beings who understand each other.... This is a book of stories-stories within stories, stories complementing stories, stories refracting and reshaping the elements of older stories. The strange beauty of Venice, with its spectacular architecture and abundance of art pregnant with history and ancient mysticism, storms Miss Garnet's staunch English reserve and challenges her socialist ideology. For the first time in her life she falls in love-with Carlo, a charming art dealer with twinkling eyes and a white moustache-and her spirit, once awakened, is liberated further by her friendships with a beautiful Italian boy called Nicco and an enigmatic pair of twins engaged in restoring the fourteenth-century Chapel-of-the-Plague. It is her discovery of a series of paintings in the nearby Church of the Angel Raphael, however, that leads finally to Julia's transformation and reassessment of her past. Intrigued by the paintings, Julia begins unraveling the story they tell of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, an ancient tale depicting a quest of faith and redemption. At the same time, she embarks on a quest of her own to recover losses-not only personal losses but also a priceless angel panel that goes missing from the Chapel, along with one of the twins restoring it.
In Salley Vickers' prose, the legendary city of sublimity and light comes to life with an unprecedented sensual clarity. Through Miss Garnet's eyes, we encounter a city swarming with the ghosts of history and enduring even in the face of its own perpetual erosion into the sea. A ravishing novel possessed of an insistent emotional honesty and an infectious curiosity about life's oldest mysteries, Miss Garnet's Angel is that rarest of contemporary novels: kindhearted and complex, subtle and genuinely suspenseful. ABOUTBIO: Salley Vickers, author of Miss Garnet's Angel and Instances of the Number 3, has worked as a university teacher of literature, specializing in Shakespeare and texts of the ancient world. Trained as a Jungian analytical psychologist, she lectures widely on the connections between literature, psychology, and religion. She lives and works in London and Bath.