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The Cleaner of Chartres [Hardcover]

Salley Vickers
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (218 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Nov 2012

'A lovely book . . . wise at heart and filled with colourful characters' Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

A beautifully beguiling new novel from Salley Vickers, author of the bestselling Miss Garnet's Angel and winner of the 2007 IMPAC Dublin award, as heard on Radio 4's Book at Bedtime.

There is something special about the ancient cathedral in Chartres, with its mismatched spires, astonishing stained-glass and strange labyrinth. And there is something special too about Agnès Morel, the mysterious woman who is to be found cleaning it each morning.

No one quite knows where she came from - not the diffident Abbé Paul, who discovered her one morning twenty years ago, sleeping in the north porch; nor lonely Professor Jones, whose chaotic existence she helps to organise; nor Philippe Nevers, whose neurotic sister and newborn child she cares for; nor even the irreverent young restorer, Alain Fleury, who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes, her colourful clothes and elusive manner. And yet everyone she encounters would surely agree that she has touched their lives in subtly transformative ways, even though they couldn't quite say how.

But with a chance meeting in the cathedral one day, the spectre of Agnès' past returns, provoking malicious speculation from the prejudiced Madame Beck and her gossipy companion Madame Picot. As the rumours grow more ugly, Agnès is forced to confront her history, and the mystery of her origins finally unfolds.

The Cleaner of Chartres is a compelling story of darkness and light; of traumatic loss and second chances. Told with a sparkling wit and beguiling charm, but infused throughout with deeper truths, it speaks of the power of love and mercy to transform the tragedies of the past.

'Salley Vickers is a novelist whose imaginative journey always promises magic and mystery. The Cleaner of Chartres shows her on top form in a rich weave of loss and redemption spiked with Ms Vickers' irrepressible wit' Robert McCrum, Observer

'With its subtle combination of explorations of faith and love, The Cleaner of Chartres is something of a return to the terrain of Vickers's first novel, Miss Garnet's Angel. Certainly, it's another gem' Independent

'Salley Vickers sees with a clear eye and writes with a light hand and she knows how the world works. She's a presence worth cherishing' Philip Pullman

'Reveals itself as a surprising exploration of the mysteries of imagination and faith' Joanna Trollope, Book of the Year, Daily Telegraph

'Rich, complex and haunting' Sunday Times

'Subtle and utterly joyous...a contemporary moral and psychological drama every bit as absorbing as Miss Garnet's Angel' Sunday Times

'A magical and at times sinister story about love, loss, secrets and forgiveness...with Chocolat-type charm' Scotland on Sunday

'The Cleaner of Chartres is a return to form' Sunday Express

'Combining grace with gravity and wisdom with wit, this latest novel by Salley Vickers simply radiates soul' Red

'If you're looking for a book to take you by surprise, Salley Vickers' latest is the perfect choice' Psychologies

Salley Vickers is the author of the word-of-mouth bestseller Miss Garnet's Angel and several other bestselling novels including Mr Golightly's Holiday, The Other Side of You and Dancing Backwards as well as a collection of short stories Aphrodite's Hat. She has worked as a cleaner, a dancer, a university teacher of literature and a psychoanalyst. She is currently a RLF fellow at Newnham College Cambridge and she divides her time between Cambridge and London.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (1 Nov 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670922129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670922123
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (218 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 172,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Salley Vickers' subtle, witty style and clear-eyed observation of human nature has been compared to Penelope Fitzgerald and Barbara Pym. She has worked as a university teacher of literature, specialising in Shakespeare, and in adult education, where she specialised in the literature of the ancient world. She is a trained analytical psychologist and lectures widely on the connections between literature, psychology and religion. She divides her time between London, Venice and the West Country.

Product Description

Review

A lovely book . . . wise at heart and filled with colourful characters (Joanne Harris, Author Of Chocolat )

Subtle and utterly joyous...a contemporary moral and psychological drama every bit as absorbing as Miss Garnet's Angel (Sunday Times )

The Cleaner of Chartres is a return to form (Sunday Express )

The Cleaner of Chartres touches lightly on the seedy side of human nature (Observer )

A magical and at times sinister story about love, loss, secrets and forgiveness...with Chocolat-type charm (Scotland on Sunday )

If you're looking for a book to take you by surprise, Salley Vickers' latest is the perfect choice (Psychologies )

With its subtle combination of explorations of faith and love, The Cleaner of Chartres is something of a return to the terrain of Vickers's first novel, Miss Garnet's Angel. Certainly, it's another gem (Independent )

About the Author

Salley Vickers is the author of the word-of-mouth bestseller Miss Garnet's Angel and several other bestselling novels including Mr Golightly's Holiday, The Other Side of You and Dancing Backwards as well as a collection of short stories Aphrodite's Hat. She has worked as a cleaner, a dancer, a university teacher of literature and a psychoanalyst. She is currently a RLF fellow at Newnham College Cambridge and she divides her time between Cambridge and London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Gentle 14 Nov 2012
By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Redemption and self-discovery are recurrent themes in Salley Vickers' writing and she tackles the same subjects here in The Cleaner of Chartres. The central hub of the story is the ancient cathedral of Chartres which attracts a wide range of visitors, each one seeking something different to fulfil their incomplete lives. Agnes Morel is the enigmatic young woman at the centre of events, quietly engrossed in her task of cleaning but having a lasting effect on those who come in contact with her.

As the novel unfolds we gradually put together the pieces of Agnes' traumatic past, parts of which come back to haunt her. The supporting cast of locals are flawed, living, breathing individuals from the troubled, senile Abbe Bernard to the local gossiping widows Mmes Beck and Picot. Their stories intertwine with that of Agnes and we feel part of this small community.

This is a character-driven novel, exquisitely slow moving and beautifully written in a gentle, engaging style. It will probably also appeal to fans of the Chocolat series by Joanne Harris and the film Amelie.
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74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, thoughtful and engaging 4 Oct 2012
By Sid Nuncius HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a beautifully written, thoughtful and engaging book. I enjoyed Miss Garnett's Angel many years ago and tried The Cleaner of Chartres on the strength of it. I was very happy that I had because I enjoyed it very much.

Salley Vickers is a marvellous storyteller and she very subtly creates very believable and recognisable characters, showing their inner lives with gentle penetration and, on the whole, great compassion. I found this aspect of the novel especially involving and her gently-painted psychological insights are what have lingered most strongly with me, and her portraits of aspects and origins of kindness and malice, of decency and selfishness, of humility and self-certainty and so on were very shrewd and delicately done.

Vickers also generates a wonderful sense of place, and the redemptive tale of Agnes, an orphan lost in the world and despised by some but finding her place among people who have come to respect and admire her is both captivating and wise in itself. There are notable similarities to Miss Garnett: the central character is a lonely woman who, without overtly searching, stumbles toward spiritual and personal fulfilment, the central setting is a cathedral where an ancient image is being restored and so on. Nevertheless, it works very well as a tale in its own right and I never felt I was being fobbed off with a re-hash.

You may get a flavour of the style from this: "The sun, shifting in its westward path, was already lighting the South Rose window and smudges of colour, refracted through the glass, were blessing the grey stone of the walls by the scaffolding that concealed the benign Blue Virgin." I found that, and a lot else in the book, extremely evocative and read it all with unalloyed pleasure and I recommend it very warmly - it's a really enjoyable read which will stay with me for a long time.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having been blown away by Miss Garnet's Angel and Falling Backwards some years ago, I've just read this because it was my book group's book this month. Unfortunately I'd just read Mr Golightly, which I'd found wonderfully written but a bit meandering and padded - and this book is written on a very similar model, almost a suspicion of a formula. Take one misfit outsider, a holy fool type, put them in a small community, let them encounter everyone in the village... so I've found this harder to get excited about even though there are many flashes of wonderful writing. Some of it is just facts about Chartres Cathedral, and I felt there wasn't much driving the plot which in fact at the end peters out rather as if the author wasn't sure where to go with it. She made the cleaner so enigmatic it was hard to be as concerned about her as I needed to be to get fully involved. A very good novel though and I'm sure many people love it. I should have reviewed Miss Garnet at the time so will do that now!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bland And Shallow 1 Oct 2013
By Karen
Format:Hardcover
On the plus side this novel is very clearly and cleanly written, on the minus side it's more like a novelized screenplay than a novel.

People and scenes were very simply described, with some background information and hints of inner life, but no author voice, nothing genuinely illuminating or exciting. The story is hackneyed; the last 'love dialogue' is not only woeful, but insulting - as if 'problems' (I won't give away the plot) can be cured by a good shag. The characters are like cast-offs from 'Chocolat', I'm only amazed a sweet shop wasn't at the heart of the book rather than a cathedral.

I read to the end - but I wouldn't have started if I'd known it was going to be a quick rattle through a few melodramatic cliches - with no great final pay-off.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A notch above Chic Lit 14 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This inspired quite a lot of controversy (good!) in our book group with quite varying views. I myself was quite bored for the first quarter or third of the book and may not have continued if it hadnt been a book group choice. It did gather momentum after that but I found the writing style condescending and the characterizations one-dimensional although there were a couple of pantomime dames to provide amusement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars bringing Chartres to life - a great read! 28 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A wonderful combination of history and fiction about a place that is accessible to us today. I was in the cathedral for vespers on Sunday and finished reading the book today - I walked with Vickers' characters, felt there sorrows and joys and could see their dramas play out. I thoroughly recommend this book wherever you are.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A really captivating read!
Published 4 days ago by Mrs. J. Kazandjian
5.0 out of 5 stars A totally beautiful book. I LOVED it.
This book forced my hand.
Previously, I had never taken the trouble to create a shelf of my own designing. Now I have. Totally beautiful books. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Rosie Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars A good yarn.
I could not put thus down - simply a good story well told.
Published 15 days ago by Heather
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good book
Published 25 days ago by Mo.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Not as thought provoking as some of the author's earlier works
Published 26 days ago by Jay
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read!
Sally Vickers has written another fantastic novel. (I've not enjoyed them all, but this is one of her greats.) a great read for any time, full of great characters and atmosphere. Read more
Published 1 month ago by River spy
3.0 out of 5 stars The cleaner of Chartres
This book took a long time to 'gell'. The writing style is good tho' not impressive. The story is quite endearing - predictable. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Marijo
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent Sally Vickers novel.
I was totally gripped by this novel and lived alongside the characters. They were both classic and modern in their setting.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. Kathleen Collingham
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read.
A lovely gentle story, full of many subtle (and some less subtle) insights. It was marred only by a lack of depth in the character depictions. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. S. D. Ingham
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read for any time but especially for holidays
This is an author who i have not read before, i enjoyed the gentle plot, the characters were well thought out and it had a propoper ending too, not all books do.
Published 1 month ago by pauline claire bridger
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