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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Gentle
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...
Published on 14 Nov 2012 by Lovely Treez

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A notch above Chic Lit
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...
Published 14 months ago by Teresa Lipson


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Gentle, 14 Nov 2012
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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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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75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, thoughtful and engaging, 4 Oct 2012
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Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cleaner of Chartres, 24 Sep 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This bewitching novel follows the life of Agnes Morel, who was found asleep one day in the North Porch of the cathedral of Notre-Dame, in the old town of Chartres. Each chapter alternates between her past and her present, as we learn how Agnes was found as an abandoned baby, how she was brought up in a convent and how tragedy overcame her. Eventually she flees to Chartres, where she gradually finds a place of her own, cleaning both at the cathedral and the homes of many of the towns inhabitants, and becoming an essential part of the lives of many people in the community, . Amongst those who lives are touched by Agnes are Robert Clement, an artist who Agnes models for, Professor Jones, who relies on Agnes to organise him, Abbe Bernard who is elderly and confused, Philippe Nevers, who Agnes babysit as a young boy, and Alain who is restoring the cathedral. Unfortunately for Agnes, some of the 'others' include the vicious gossip Madame Beck, who feels that Agnes has 'bad blood'. When Madame Beck discovers the secrets of Agnes early life, she uses the information against her. When a tragedy occurs, what starts as slander becomes dangerous...

Agnes is a wonderful character - naive, solitary and deeply hurt, but always kind and gentle. Madame Beck is someone that, sadly, we all recognise. The bitter and unkind gossip, who delights in spreading ill will under the guise of concern for others. Yet both the vicious Madame Beck and Agnes herself underestimate the regard in which she is held. I have always loved Sally Vickers novels and this is easily up there with the best of her work; great characters, well plotted and with interesting themes, this would be ideal for a book club as there is so much to discuss and enjoy.
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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
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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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For me a somewhat simple story, that lacked a point..., 24 Nov 2012
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DebB (Oxfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars A gentle insight, 22 Dec 2012
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J. Hildreth "J.A.@zarnok" (Bath uk) - See all my reviews
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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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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
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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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, 24 Mar 2013
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confused? You probably will be., 27 April 2013
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Out of mazy emotion, 21 Dec 2014
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Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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Although it shares with the bestselling “Miss Garnett’s Angel” the topics of church restoration and the ghostly background presence of a “Gabriel”, this novel has a sufficiently distinct storyline. A little exotic in her colourful skirts, Agnes works as a cleaner at Chartres Cathedral, whether as a means of forgetting the past or in atonement for some past deed is unclear until the end.

Switching between past and present, the novel reveals the sadness of her previous life after being found abandoned in his orchard on St. Agnes Eve by a kindly farmer who thinks she will be better off with the nuns than in a children’s home. Labelled “retarded” owing to her inability to read, she is struck by a chain of misfortunes as a teenager, with inadequate support from both the blinkered nuns and a bungling medical service. The ambiguity as to her guilt or innocence in all this and the tension as to how matters will be resolved in the present make this a page-turner, together with the wrily humorous yet also often poignant portrayal of a variety of characters, the beautiful descriptions of Chartres Cathedral which make you either want to visit it or wish you had paid more attention when you did, and the intriguing details on the history and mythology surrounding it – even if these are too often embedded in a rather clunky fashion into the monologues of the handsome hunk Alain waiting in his conservationist’s scaffolding to carry off the appealing Agnes.

There are a few too many coincidences in the plot, which occasionally teeters on the brink of Mills and Boonland. The greatest flaw for me is the tendency to digress into too much detail at every opportunity: when a character remembers finding her husband kissing the maid, you have to be told exactly which wines she had in mind on her unexpected visit to the kitchen, but some will find this adds charm to the novel. Knowing that the author has worked as a psychotherapist, I sometimes felt that she has been unable to resist the temptation to weave in too much of the welter of experience and analysis stemming from her work. Despite this, the story is in the main saved from mawkishness by her wit and insight. I think I found it more moving than the better known “Miss Garnett’s Angel” and recommend it, although I suspect it will appeal mainly to female readers.
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The Cleaner of Chartres
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers (Paperback - 23 May 2013)
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