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Miss Garnet’s Angel Paperback – 5 Mar 2007
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Audio Download, Unabridged
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There is something very old-fashioned and reassuring about Sally Vickers' novel Miss Garnet's Angel. The themes, self-discovery and redemption have the air of a bygone age, despite the novel being set in contemporary Venice in a world of holiday apartment lets and Pizza Express-funded restoration works. Julia Garnet is a middle-aged woman who has been practising economies of the spirit for years. Hers is a closed-in world, dusty with Marx's theories and when her friend and flatmate of 30 years dies Julia decides to spend the six winter months in Venice to recuperate from her loss. Miss Garnet is a dignified, brusque heroine and Sally Vickers' prose is likewise unruffled and controlled. Miss Garnet's epiphanies are as quiet and subtle as the "oro pallido" (pale gold) light in early Italian Art because, of course, art plays a part in this Venetian tale of emotional reawakening. Julia is moved by the depiction of Raphael in Guardis Tobias and the Angel: "something rusty and hard shifted deep inside Julia Garnet as she stood absorbing the vivid dewy painting and the unmistakable compassion in the angel's bright glance." She falls in love with Carlo, an art historian with crinkly eyes, white hair and a moustache. There are trials and tribulations to be undergone, Julia must unlearn all her old regimented ways of life, and this brings about heart ache and hurt. However, Vickers handles this with delicate sympathy, giving Julia Garnet a new sensitive view of the world, and the reader a resonant story of transformation. --Eithne Farry --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
'Subtle, unexpected and haunting.' Penelope Fitzgerald
'Very kind, very funny.' John Bayley
'Rich, complex and haunting…she makes the ancient story as riveting as Miss Garnet's own adventures.' Sunday Times
Reveals itself as a surprising exploration of the mysteries of imagination and faith.' Joanna Trollope, Daily Telegraph, Book of the Year
'A subtle, witty tale.' John de Falbe, SpectatorSee all Product description
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Salley Vickers intersperses her narrative with instalments, with some additional inventions of her own, of the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha. With each instalment she adds a little more to the account in the Book of Tobit. At first these additions amount to very little, but the later ones are based on research that has been done which has found that the Book of Tobit (written during the time when the Jews were living under Persian rule) probably has Zoroastrian roots, and each subsequent instalment veers further and further away from the original.
One has the feeling that Julia's experiences in Venice should have some bearing on the story and vice versa; but it is difficult for a long time to see what these might be. For much of the book, the inserted instalments relating to the Book of Tobit seem to have no relevance, either directly or indirectly, to the passages on either side of the insertion - only towards the end do they converge.
Julia meets an English pair, a young man and a young woman, who are restoring the masonry in a chapel (invented by Salley Vickers) which also has a sculpted Raphael and also a painted panel of him. Rather obviously they are called Toby and Sarah (like the characters in the Book of Tobit - though at this point a reader who has not already read that book would not yet know this). The closest correspondences between the Book of Tobit and the plot of the novel are with this pair; and these begin only about half-way through the novel. Only once or twice are there correspondences with Julia herself.
The story of Julia in Venice and of her interest in the Book of Tobit would stand well on its own, even if one does not look for any parallels. It has many wise reflections about human relationships and personal development. There are allusions to other literature; there are digs at arid rationalism and a reference to a destructive Freudian analysis (Salley Vickers is a Jungian analyst). The book reads easily, though there is the very occasional slight clunkiness of expression or description which betrays that this is a first novel. If I feel that I cannot give it the full five stars it is because I felt I was being invited to look for a more satisfying connection between the novel and the story of Tobias and the Angel, which the book, perhaps teasingly, withheld from me for so long. It is true that the revealing of psychic histories has something in common with a detective stories, but for me the way the two genres were mixed in this novel did not quite come off.
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