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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not to be missed by fans
Though oddly reminiscent in plot to Barbara Erskine's best-selling Lady of Hay, Tracy Chevalier's first novel is a pleasure to read. It doesn't quite achieve the heights of Girl with a Pearl Earring, (hence the 4 star rating,) but shares its unforced sympathy for its characters, erotic tension, ability to evoke the past and clarity of style.
Five hundred years ago, a...
Published on 23 Dec 2002 by A. Craig

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars If you like Chevalier, you'll like this one too
A typical Chevalier novel with the historical background, so for fans of a bit of history woven into novels, it's good. The to and for between modern and past is not everybody's taste, but it works for me.
Not as good as Remarkable Creatures, which I think is her best.
Published on 31 Oct 2012 by Canscot


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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not to be missed by fans, 23 Dec 2002
By 
A. Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
Though oddly reminiscent in plot to Barbara Erskine's best-selling Lady of Hay, Tracy Chevalier's first novel is a pleasure to read. It doesn't quite achieve the heights of Girl with a Pearl Earring, (hence the 4 star rating,) but shares its unforced sympathy for its characters, erotic tension, ability to evoke the past and clarity of style.
Five hundred years ago, a red-haired Huguenot girl, La Rousse, sees her mother, a sage-femme or midwife, killed in the remote Cevenol area of France. Subsequently, she is married, unwillingly, to a bullying husband and forced with others of his faith from their home. She falls in love with an Italian pedlar and is mysteriously protected by a wolf, before her love of a piece of blue cloth brings disaster. When Ella Turner, an American married to Rick, comes to the same area she begins to be haunted by flashes of the colour blue - the colour of the Virgin Mary's robe. She is trying to become pregnant, although her relationship with her husband is increasingly compromised by an attraction to the French librarian, Jean-Paul. With his help, and that of her Swiss relations, Ella uncovers fragments of an ancient crime involving the persecution of the Hugenots and the presence of the mysterious blue of the Virgin's robe...and as she does so, her own hair turns red, like that of her ancestress.
The novel switches between Ella's narrative voice and an account of a past that may or may not be "true". Ella is a highly engaging character - quirky, stubborn, funny, and completely at odds with the provincial French town in which she finds herself. Her growing passion for Jean-Paul is conveyed with an economy that successfully skirts the novelettish, and her professional pride in her work as a midwife gives her a realism that is particularly welcome in a tale of shifting times and perceptions. An excellent and entertaining novel, which will be enjoyed by fans of Alice Hoffman and Rose Tremain.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN EXQUISITE AND TRIUMPHANT DEBUT NOVEL..., 13 Sep 2004
By 
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written debut novel. Exquisite in its imagery and clarity of language, the author tells two parallel tales. One takes place in sixteenth century France, during the Protestant reformation and religious persecution of the Huguenots (Protestants). The other takes place in present day France. There are historical ties that bind these two stories, as well as a haunting familial legacy that reaches out across time to makes itself felt in the present.
The sixteenth century tale is based around a young woman, Isabelle du Moulin, who marries a boorish lout named Etienne Tournier, the oldest son of one of the more prominent families in their provincial town in France. She is a young woman upon whom the Virgin Mary made a great impression, when she was but a girl. The Tourniers, however, are believers of the new, harsh, Calvinist faith, and so Isabelle must also fully subscribe to it, if she is to survive in her husbands family and in the town in which she lives. When the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre occurs, in which Huguenots are slain without mercy throughout all of France, Isabelle is forced to flee to safety with what remains of her husband's family. Unhappy in her marriage, she goes on to have an event occur in her life that is so tragic that her pain and sorrow is made palpable in the present, touching one of her ancestors, Ella Turner.
Of course, the parallel tale focuses around Ella Turner, a young, married American woman, who moves to France with her husband Rick, in order to advance his career. Ella agrees to the move, because it will take her to the region in France from which she knows her family originated. Once in France, Emma has some difficulty acclimating to life in the small provincial town to which they have moved, as well as to its denizens. Ella also finds herself having inexplicable nightmares and begins to feel herself somewhat alienated from her husband. To occupy her time, she begins a quest to discover more about her French ancestry. As Ella's story unfolds, alternating with the parallel story of Isabelle, commonalities between the past and present begin to emerge. These parallel stories then converge in a stunning denouement to resolve a tragedy of the past in the present.
I absolutely loved this book, as it covered many of the genres that I enjoy. The author combines historical fiction, suspense, romance, and touch of the supernatural all in one beautifully realized novel. The author writes with the heart of a poet and the soul of a great storyteller, one whose prose is delicately nuanced as she weaves gossamer threads of a tale well told. This is simply a superlative and stunning debut novel that will keep the reader turning its pages until the very last. Bravo!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to read and re-read, and to share with friends., 23 Sep 2003
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This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
This book is exquisite; if you're interested in history, geography, puzzles, religion, people, or even simply in the texture and colour of beautifully written prose, read it.
But be warned: make sure you buy more than one copy. Because when you finish reading, you will want to share it with others - and you will also want to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing again, just in case you missed any of the clues the first time round.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical story, 16 Nov 2002
By 
Christine L (Berkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
Fate (or her husband's job) brings Ella to France and strange things start happening. Suddenly her life seems intertwined with that of Isabelle du Moulin, 500 years earlier. She starts dreaming of the Virgin Blue, her hair turns red and little by little, as Ella is finding out about her family history; Chevalier lets the reader discover the secret that is plaguing Ella's dreams and taking over her life.
Chevalier's style of writing is incredibly vivid and imaginative and I found myself being able to picture myself in the various locations, without tedious descriptive passages. As with Girl With A Pearl Earring and Falling Angels Chevalier's characters are expertly brought to life with only sparse comments and body language.
With a book as this it would have been easy to make the connection between Ella and Isabelle to strong, too obvious, but Chevalier lets them live their own lives and only ties them together at a few strategically important points. My only complaint now is that I will have to wait almost another year before I get to read a new book by Tracy Chevalier.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An evocative novel of today's France and it's history., 4 Aug 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
Ella Turner, Tracy Chevalier's main character, arrives in France from America almost an appendage of her husband for it is his job that they have followed. Gradually, as Ella becomes Ella Tournier and tries to follow the haunting dreams that she has, we see the development of her character into the real Ella Turner/Tournier. This novel is evocative of Chocolat by Joanne Harris, with similar touches of mysticism and the same feel for the characters, landscapes and architecture of France. The characters are many faceted and although there are several clues along the way, with the interwoven chapters about Ella's long ago relatives, the Tournier family, the climax of the book is still both shocking and moving.I felt sorrow and regret for characters from almost 500 years ago as if they were really living today. A fabulous, page turning read and I can't wait to read Girl With a Pearl Earring by the same author.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read, 4 Nov 2003
By 
J. Lennox "jlennox" (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
I have loved all of Tracy Chevalier's books, The girl with the pearl earing, falling angels and the lady and the unicorn, they are all great but this one really does capture the imagination and stays in your mind for a long time after finishing it!
Buy them all!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Religious Persecution to Contemporary Languedoc Romance, 22 Sep 2014
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
Tracy Chevalier's first novel is narrated in the double 'contemporary and historical narratives' style made so popular by writers including Kate Mosse and Rachel Hore - and many others. Ella Turner, a young American midwife, arrives in a small village in the Tarn region of France with her husband Rick, who's set up an architectural practice in Toulouse (how easy it'd be for an American to do this and why they've left the US I'm not quite sure). Ella loves France, but finds the inhabitants of her new home, Lisle-sur-Tarn, for the most part quite suspicious and unfriendly. She also realizes that she's becoming obsessed with her ancestors who came from the area, and becomes tormented by dreams of a brilliant blue cloth - the blue of the robes of the Madonna in Renaissance paintings. And she begins to experience other mysterious sensations and feelings - first desperately wanting a child, then wanting to wait, and realizing one morning that her brown hair is becoming auburn. And there's her strange attraction to scholarly librarian Jean-Paul, who's helping her to discover more about her ancestors the Tourniers. Ella's story runs parallel to that of Isabelle du Moulin, a young woman growing up in France during the heyday of the Huguenots and Calvinism. When Isabelle's village turns away from Catholicism, she is taunted for her red hair (believed to be a 'sinful colour) and forced to smash a statue of the Virgin (believed to be an idol). She's got a lot more misfortunes to come - her sister dies in childbirth, her mother gets rabies after being bitten by a wolf and also dies - and then Isabelle is seduced (perhaps even raped) by local Huguenot farmer Etienne Tournier. Etienne gets her pregnant and marries her, but makes it clear that he will always regard her with suspicion. And when hard times come and the family, persecuted by a Catholic backlash against the Huguenots, leave the Tarn area and flee to Switzerland, the relationship between Isabelle and Etienne is tested to the limits - particularly when the couple's young daughter Marie begins to develop red hair and a fascination with the Virgin Mary...

The writing style of this novel shows why Chevalier has gone on to become so famous - at times, she can write stunningly. She can make even simple things, such as eating a meal or listening to a piece of music, seem very special. Her descriptions of the French landscape are beautiful and vivid, and I liked the contemporary romance between Ella and Jean-Paul, which managed to avoid too much cliche, and the account of Isabelle and her family's travels. The depiction of the life of farmers at the period when Isabelle was alive was also lovely - reminding me of the wonderful film 'Le Retour de Martin Guerre'.

However, I did very much feel that in terms of plot, things didn't quite hang together and the book had very much a 'first novel' feel about it. Chevalier avoided two-time narratives after this book and I can see why - her moving between the two means that neither story gets developed enough. The religious aspect of Isabelle's story is cut back to the point where it can be quite difficult to understand (and I think Calvinism is a bleaker religious sect than was implied) and I had only a vague idea where Isabelle stood - did she secretly mourn her Catholicism or had she accepted Calvinism? In the modern story, while the Ella and Jean-Paul story was good, Chevalier never explained what the problems were between Ella and Rick and why they suddenly seemed to come out of nowhere - but Rick was so seriously underdeveloped as a character that I guess this was inevitable. I didn't believe that Ella would just reject Rick because of dreams about her ancestors - there must have been other reasons. Nor was I sure why, if he believed her to be a witch, Etienne married Isabelle - or why she let him have his way with her - though the collapse of the couple's relationship later was both believable and heartbreaking. At times the plot simply seemed muddled - Marie ending up wearing a dress of blue cloth when she knew it would make her father angry, or Ella breaking apart the ruined cottage in Moutier because she felt ancestral voices telling her there was something there. At points like these, Chevalier's excellent writing style contrasted markedly with a more amateurish feeling plot.

This is an interesting read for anyone keen on French history, and on historical fiction, but I suspect Chevalier got a lot better later on. I've got four more of her books at home and look forward to reading them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thumbs up for my first Chevalier..., 16 Sep 2009
By 
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
Simply put, this book is like an interesting fusion of 'Labyrinth' and 'Practical Magic'. Isabelle is a young woman in rural France who finds herself increasingly despised by those around her. Her bright red hair links her to the Virgin Mary, and whispers of witchcraft float around her as the Calvinist 'Truth' spreads through the people and the Catholics turn to persecution to fight back. Marrying into the wealthy but arrogant Tourniers, she is still marginalised and life becomes ever more difficult. Several hundred years later, Ella Turner moves from America to France with her husband, to a little provincial town that doesn't take kindly to strangers. Increasingly miserable and lonely there, she takes up the search for her ancestors as a project to pass the time, enlisting Jean-Paul, a local librarian, to help her. Tormented by a smothering nightmare of billowing blue and chanted words, she moves ever closer to discovering the fate of Isabelle and her children.

The book began disastrously for me. It was clunky, irritating, confusing and disjointed. In fact, if it hadn't been for someone mentioning having a similar experience but really liking it in the end, I might have given up before the end of the first chapter. I'm glad I took that advice and persevered! I enjoyed seeing the parallels between Isabelle and Ella building, wondering if anyone else in the 'modern' chapters might be descendants of those in the 'old' sections, and how the tangle of characters around these women fitted together. The ties between women, in friendship as well as through the generations of a family, is nicely explored, with the whispering echoes of Isabelle and her red hair reminding me of the mysterious family curse at the centre of 'Practical Magic'. The chapters alternate between Isabelle and Ella, between the third and first person voice, and between narrative styles, until the climactic chapters where both alternate ever more quickly, building suspense and a horrible sickly sense of dread and fear. That said, I worked out what was coming a little too early, which meant that I was waiting more for the WHY than the WHAT - and was therefore disappointed when the truth was revealed but never explained.

All in all, I'm really glad I carried on reading it - but I was a bit distracted by it's similarity to the later 'Labyrinth', which I read (and loved) a few years ago now. It was evocative and exciting and suspenseful, but the anticlimactic ending let it down to some extent. I think the story will stay with me so I'll hang on to it a while and let the reflection run its course before I decide whether it's a keeper or not!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not a masterpiece of literature, but pleasing and involving, 16 Dec 2003
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
I've been reading this beautiful novel in a couple of days, Chevalier's style of writing is very simple but enchanting. The story is captivating, fascinating, especially if you like period novels and history. It is the perfect gift for a good friend, you'll make him/her really happy!
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sage-femme, 14 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Virgin Blue (Paperback)
This is Tracy Chevalier's debut novel. It concerns an American called Ella Turner who has moved to France to be with her husband as he pursues the next stage in his career. Her father suggests that she take the opportunity to visit her relatives in Switzerland, but Ella points out that Switzerland is a whole different country, and besides, she's never met her cousins before.
Ella decides to continue her own career as a midwife in France, but although her French is good, she struggles to adapt. She's not given a particularly warm welcome. She and her husband Rick decide to try for a baby, but each time they try to conceive, Ella is tormented by a nightmare in which a particular shade of blue predominates. She hides her anguish from Rick, and decides to follow up her father's suggestion about finding out more about her family. Although her family does have its historic roots in the Cevennes, finding out about them turns out to be quite difficult. The fact that the family moved from France to Switzerland though does tend to suggest that they were Huguenots persecuted after the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Eve. Ella tries to register at the library under the original Turner family name, 'Tournier', and is distraught when the haughty librarian refuses her request. However, it seems that the librarian has been moved to act on her emotional request after all. It's not long before Ella is aided and hindered in her search for her family by this enigmatic librarian, Jean-Paul.
Intertwined with Ella's story is that of La Rousse, Isabelle du Moulin. She's called La Rousse because this is a Cevenol nickname for a girl with red hair (although maybe Chevalier was also inspired by the story of Joan of Arc, who stayed with a woman called La Rousse before starting her crusade). Red hair is also associated with the red hair of the Virgin Mary, an association that Isabelle is all too aware of. It seems throughout the novel that she has never fully converted to Protestantism like the huge majority of her community, and one of her daughters is even named Marie. One of the themes of this novel is how traits are handed down the generations. Isabelle becomes midwife just like her mother, and although her mother has taught her a great deal of the secrets concerned with this trade, there is also the sense that it comes naturally to her. I think that one of the most crucial passages in the book is that on page 88: Ella Turner is driving through the French countryside when she notices the growth of Queen Anne's Lace and jack-in-the-pulpit. Although no reference is made to this in the text, both these plants have been employed as traditional herbal remedies for conception, with contrary effects. Maybe Ella has learnt about these plants as part of her midwife training back home in the US, but I like to think that this is Chevalier's way of saying that Ella knows instinctively to look out for these plants as part of her genetic code to be a midwife. This passage certainly shows, as did Falling Angels, that Chevalier's research is very thorough and that she has a very subtle approach to using this data. Jean-Paul does criticise certain fabulous coincidences, but no doubt he also has similar enthusiasm for his research when it springs up the incredible but true. The Cevennes has also traditionally been home to a particularly vicious breed of wolf, which has very much torn its way into local legend.
In Falling Angels, Tracy Chevalier reveals that she always reads an author's acknowledgements in the hope of finding their true voice, and what they're really like. Here, you can't help but wonder how autobiographical this novel is, especially when her bio in the book reveals that "She has family in the United States, France and Switzerland". The fact that Ella seems so intent on researching Etienne Tournier may be obliquely related to the fact that an Etienne Chevalier was treasurer to the French King and a great patron of the arts in the Fifteenth Century. After all, Tracy Chevalier did mention the music hall song "'Appy 'Ampstead" in Falling Angels because a certain Albert Chevalier wrote it. Jean-Paul typically drives a Citroen Deux Chevaux, but the inn in Moutier really is called Cheval Blanc. The resolution of The Virgin Blue is also reminiscent of the end to Falling Angels. It may be that some of these links are just as much 'red fish' as Nicolas Tournier (the 'Virgin Blue' actually comes from a painting by Bellini). However, just as Ella seems to genetically share Isabelle's trade, then so can we all instinctively react to every parent's nightmare. To some readers, it may seem as though the climax does literally come out of the blue, but a close reading of the text does reveal that Chevalier has laid down clues here and there, and I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and let her get away with it. Tracy Chevalier has very much done her homework. It seems that the Tournier family may have much more sinister traits than just the practice of kissing three times in greeting...
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The Virgin Blue
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier (Paperback - 11 Sep 2014)
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