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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Cleaner of Chartres
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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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77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2013
Ultimately, I found this uplifting, moving and thought-provoking - after being tempted to give up in frustration!

What I liked: the setting of the cathedral, the focus on the cleaner as the central character, the exploration of religious characters and their impact on the world, the mystery of paternity, and in Agnes' case, maternity, the chance encounters and their consequences - some of which are expounded on, others, like the ear-ring revelation at the end, not, the happy ending. I liked the spiralling time lines, echoing the Chartres Labyrinth, but I think they are hard to handle. The exploration of good and evil and unintended consequences is interesting - but the huge cast of characters led to some stereotyping and shallowness.

What I disliked: the style early on drove me nuts on a sentence level, so many adjectives, adverbs and clumsy syntax and a `deary-me' kind of voice that sometimes became inappropriately lyrical. Mid-way through the book, it got much cleaner and tighter, although there are some asides and in-jokes that seem to be in Salley Vickers' voice. There were far too many characters and whilst I liked the slow reveal in many cases, it seemed a bit arbitrary and sometimes unlikely and inconsistent. For example, Agnes' one friend, Terry, is skated over whilst we get all of Prof Jones' geneology. Some characters get lots of back story, some none, some key characters we don't even know their age til later. Dr Deman didn't quite add up - not that people do in reality but for the machine of a novel there needs to be some consistency.

In conclusion - I was suddenly gripped half way through when eventually Agnes was realised enough to be credible. The cruelty of the psychiatric system that imprisoned her after the vile convent became vivid and I was genuinely moved to tears by the terrible and unjust accusation later. Good to have a happy ending!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2013
The constant zigzaging in place and time is initially a pain. However, at the end I was galloping along and the finish caught me by surprise. Clever story with lot of baddies and unexpected goodies. Makes you think about faith and the Clergy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2013
This book was chosen for me by my book club. I had not previously read any of Salley Vickers' books and by the look of the cover I don't think I would have chosen it myself. How wrong I would have been as it is a lovely book written both in the present and past about an intriguing woman who works as a cleaner both in Chartres cathedral and in the homes of some of the local inhabitants. She has an air of mystery about her, but gradually her story unfolds. It's a very good book on several levels and I enjoyed it very much. Last week I attended a meeting where we met Salley and she told us more about her inspiration for the book and her method of story telling. She answered all the questions fully and I came away very impressed and determined to buy another of her books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2013
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 November 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Hmmm, much has been written so I'll be brief...
I found this a rather simplistic, and pointless story really. I had no real trouble finishing it, but I didn't find myself making time to read just a bit more
Our heroine suffers much, there are a few cardboard baddies - the nasty nun and the horrid Madame Beck, some saints - the Abbe and, I suppose, Alain, and some in betweens. For some characters we had a lot of their internal musings and so could create more of an image of who they are, (Dr Deman, for example) but for others we had none. I have no idea what Alain thought of anything, or why he was where he was, or where he came from.
The book develops slowly and initially, intriguingly, with this reader wondering what the mystery of the Cleaner of Chatres was going to be, and then, suddenly, whoof and it's over, with a little epilogue briskly accounting for the next decade or so. Nice people get nice endings, the baddies are, if not defeated exactly, then left in their badness.
It's a story, with a jump-about timeline and very predictable ending - maybe I missed the point?
Oh, and if you're interested in Chatres cathedral, this contains large chunks of guide book detail - take it on a trip there and explore with it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 December 2012
This lovely evocative story gently reveals an approach to mental health that helps question our reliance on medication and containment as used today here in the UK. The overall story with some wonderful characters such as the Abbott and the Doctor, who are the heroes for me, have made this book a new favorite.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2013
This was the second book by Salley Vickers that I have read - the first being Miss Garnet's Angel. I loved reading The Cleaner of Chartres from the very first page until the last. Salley Vickers writes with such kindness - and so much insight into her characters and why they behave as they do. It is a charming story set in a beautiful location, brought to life by the writer's straightforward but evocative prose; a beautiful tapestry of events, woven together with great skill. There is a mystery or two to unravel along the way - and human problems and conflicts to be resolved - but the journey provides a fascinating set of characters and a story told with tenderness, understanding and humour. A lovely book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2013
This was the first Salley Vickers book I read, and I'm now a fan. The cleaner, Agnes, is something of a mystery - she's very capable and obliging, but is there some dark secret in her past? Certainly one or two of the residents of Chartres seem to think so, and they set out to establish her guilt. Salley Vickers has a knack for describing our all too human frailties as well as our redeeming qualities. This was a fascinating tale, and I'm so glad I discovered Salley Vickers by reading it. Highly recommended.
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