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Falling Angels [Paperback]

Tracy Chevalier
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Jun 2002

A welcome return to a writer whose last book, the much loved and admired Girl With a Pearl Earring has been such an outstanding success.

1901, the year of the Queen’s death. The two graves stood next to each other, both beautifully decorated. One had a large urn – some might say ridiculously large – and the other, almost leaning over the first, an angel – some might say overly sentimental.

The two families visiting the cemetery to view their respective neighbouring graves were divided even more by social class than by taste. They would certainly never have become acquainted had not their two girls, meeting behind the tombstones, become best friends. And furthermore – and even more unsuitably – become involved in the life of the gravedigger’s muddied son.

As the girls grow up, as the century wears on, as the new era and the new King change social customs, the lives and fortunes of the Colemans and the Waterhouses become more and more closely intertwined – neighbours in life as well as death.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New edition edition (5 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007108265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007108268
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 511,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tracy is the author of seven historical novels, including the international bestseller GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 4 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son and cat. Her most recent novel, THE LAST RUNAWAY, is her first novel to be set in the United States, and she learned how to make quilts for it. Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website www.tchevalier.com will tell you more about her and her books.

Product Description

Amazon Review

In Falling Angels, Tracy Chevalier has combined a moving elegy to the lost innocence of the 21st century's grandmothers and great-grandmothers with a reminder of the strength and modernity of their aspirations and achievements. Maude and Livy are aged six in 1901, when Queen Victoria has just died and the whole country is in mourning. In 1910 they are almost young women who have experienced their own personal losses and belong to a generation who are no longer prepared to wear black for months to mark the death of Edward VII. Their families, the Colemans and the Waterhouses ("no relation to the painter"), meet in a graveyard beside their family graves. One has a large marble angel erected above it, the other an urn (an allusion more to the morbidity of a Victorian columbarium than the eternity of Keats' pre-Victorian "unravish'd bride of quietness"). Their choices of a monument to death seem to reflect their differing attitudes to life, but Chevalier makes clear that these two families are forever linked in their fates and aspirations.

The story moves swiftly, switching to multiple narratives: young but quickly maturing Maude and Livy; the adult Colemans and Waterhouses; their servants; and Simon the gravedigger boy. Chevalier has chosen carefully who speaks when, and who, more importantly, keeps silent. Livy's little sister Ivy May is one of the most beguiling figures of the work, but is given only two sentences of her own (and those two bring a lump to the throat). Mrs Coleman's experiences with the campaign for women's suffrage are marginalised through silence; Maude and Livy tell instead of their reaction to the women's antics. And while Falling Angels may be a story of women, despite, or perhaps because of their exclusion from contemporary politics, Simon's observations are the most honest and revealing.

Chevalier herself writes after the story's end that "the Acknowledgements is the only section of a novel that reveals an author's "normal" voice. Every character uses their "normal" voice in this novel, and Chevalier's own voice excels in ensuring that each one is unique (for example, everything is "delicious" for Livy), so that, like Mr Coleman mourning his daughter growing up, you will "miss her when she goes". --Olivia Dickinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'As in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier displays an enviable knack for evoking a particular period and place, and her handling of some of the novel's most poignant moments is unfailingly sensitive.' Independent on Sunday

'Falling Angels is as cleverly atmospheric as Girl with a Pearl Earring. A well researched and vividly imagined tale.' Sunday Telegraph

'Chevalier handles this material beautifully. The result is a novel that shows both the strangeness of the world as it was and its closeness to our own time.' The Times

‘Pearl Earring fans will love the evocation of atmosphere one would expect from this writer. Tracy Chevalier gives the kiss of life to the historical novel.' Independent

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and sumptous 29 Sep 2002
I avoided reading this for a long time, because I had read mixed reviews on Amazon about it and I was afraid I would be disappointed. I didn't want to knock Chevalier from the pedal stool I put her on after reading 'Girl'.
I'm glad I took the risk. On page four, I realised I was utterly hooked.
Falling Angels follows the lives of two very different best friends from five years old through to their teens. Lavinia is spoilt, beautiful yet insecure about her families' (slight) lack of wealth. Maude is plain but intelligent and compassionate, well off but unaware of it.
Each chapter is taken from different characters points of view - the girls, their parents and families, cooks and maids. This is where Chevalier shines - the plot is never confused or lost amongst all these different voices. These shifting view points only add to the compelling story.
The book starts with the death of Queen Victoria and the new ruling of King Edward. Chevalier weaves slow, subtle social changes of the Edwardian era into the storylines and quietly looks at how it affects the characters. The Sufragettes movement is largely featured, Maudes mother becomes involved and quickly becomes consumed by it. You feel Edwardian London coming to life around you.
Chevaliers' talent is creating atmosphere and stillness in very ordinary situations and simmering them to boiling point. She can build and inject pressure effortlessly.
I have never had any interest in historic novels but Chevalier could write about a sheet of blank paper and you would devour it!
The fans of 'Girl' do not think this is a modern classic, and maybe it cant live up to 'Girl', yet it has all the terrific Chevalier magic. That makes it a worthy read in my eyes.
Don't get caught up in comparing it with 'Girl' with 'Falling Angels' its not worse, it's just different. This is a divine little book to get lost in, I couldn't recommend it more.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A reliably good read 23 Mar 2005
This was my first Tracy Chevalier read, but it certainly won't be my last. My reading group read this because one of our members had read Girl with a Pearl Earring and liked Chevalier's style, but this turned out to be one of the most successful book group sessions we've had to date.
This novel is very readable and the device of having different characters narrate the story keeps it really fresh. It was also difficult to put this book down as I felt compelled to find out what was going to happen to all of the characters. This novel also transports you to what must have been a really interesting time for society, on the cusp of leaving the Victorian age of repression behind and entering the new 'modern' Edwardian age of progress.

Each character seems to be well-rounded with good and bad points but we are still left with unanswered questions about why some of them act in the way they do, which I think is just how a good book should be - not necessarily giving you ALL the answers, but definitely giving you something to think about. It also integrates contemporary history into the novel as seen on a large scale (women's suffrage) but also intimately records history on a small scale through two families' daily lives.
I read that Chevalier is considering writing a sequel to this novel and I have to say that I would be interested in reading it. For those interested in this novel, I would suggest they look at [...] AFTER they have read Falling Angels, so as not to give anything away beforehand. Thumbs up, Ms Chevalier!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read 16 Oct 2002
Compelling, moving, and almost unputdownable, 'Falling Angels' is one of the best books I have read in quite some time. In terms of structure it works brilliantly, as each character writes in their own voice and there is a distinct lask of any omnipresent narrator overseeing events. Without this presence the reader almost becomes part of the novel, hearing each character speak and becoming entwined in their own individual tales. You cannot help but smile at Lavinia's childish, overexcited prose, whilst it is incredibly easy to empathise with Maud due to her incredible maturity and understanding of events around her.
To set a novel primarily in a graveyard sounds morbid and uninspiring, but instead the graveyard becomes an almost comical space, with many hilarious discussions about the superiority of either urns or angels for a tomb. I have never been especially interested in history of this period, but the novel brings it alive, enabling the reader to almost experience the smell, the taste, the excitement of events such as the suffragette's march.
To compare 'Falling Angels' to 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' would be a mistake, as each novel is entirely different in terms of everything from perspective to subject matter. Instead, Chevalier is revealed as a writer of outstanding talent, able to evoke what appears to be a true representation of two entirely separate cultures in two fitting yet wildly different ways.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another success by Ms Chevalier. 24 Jun 2006
I was loaned a copy of Tracey Chevalier's "The Virgin Blue" in October of 2003 and within a year I'd read all her books!
What a fantastic author. She and Philippa Gregory have opened up the genre of Historical Fiction for me.
"Falling Angels" certainly lived up to expectations.
It was fascinating on several levels: the interactions between the upper and lower strata of the middle class at the turn of the century, reactions to the death of Queen Victoria and the new reign of Edward VII, and the development of the Suffragette movement.
Maude Coleman and Livy Waterhouse meet and become friends at the age of 6, when their families visit the local graveyard as a mark of respect following the death of Queen Victoria. The friendship is not approved of by the parents, who are forced to mix with a family outside their class.
Various members of the two households recount the story over a period of 10 years. But it is when Maude's mother, Kitty, becomes involved with the Suffragettes that things really heat up.
This is the first book I've read relating to the fight for the vote, which I take so much for granted. It made fascinating reading.
Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Really good would certainly recommend
This really evokes the Victorian times and the attitudes to death and social customs of the period. The book introduces the suffragettes an draws from an actual event with... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Suzie
5.0 out of 5 stars Falling angels
One of her best novels, although I have loved all I have read of hers.
Published 24 days ago by Mrs. L. B. Steel
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
intriguing story line I enjoy her books
Published 2 months ago by Marise Myers
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
A wonderful story and so well written in the eyes of the characters. Very enlightening with the going ons of the 1900's.
Published 3 months ago by Megs
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging story with a good sense of time and place
This is a character-driven novel that's set in the early 1900s and based around two families who live close to Highgate Cemetery. Read more
Published 4 months ago by C. Colley
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok Read.
Felt that the characters were 2 dimensional and that the plot didn't really go anywhere. Subject matter was interesting and I felt that it could have been expanded upon.
Published 4 months ago by brenda farmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious read
I loved this book and found it completely engrossing. I loved the characters - from the sensible intelligent Maude and the vain silly Lavinia through to Mother Coleman and Simon's... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jill in East Kent
5.0 out of 5 stars original and haunting
The idea of constructing a whole novel around events in a cemetery might seem surprising, but it works! I could not put this book down. Read more
Published 6 months ago by tangerina
5.0 out of 5 stars really excellent read
read & enjoyed 'girl with a pearl ear ring' several years ago but this is better. a wonderfully evoked Edwardian Hampstead & Highgate; the children of two familes growing up; the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by sef
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange and memorable
This was a haunting read, one that had the smell of grave soil clinging to its pages. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as her other novels but it certainly stayed with me.
Published 10 months ago by Georgia Hill
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