The tale of three generations of the Northumbrian Tye family, told by three generations of Tye women – Betsy, Bell and Hetta.
The main focus is the men in their lives, in particular Will – Hetta’s brother, Bell’s nephew, Betsy’s grandson – who like his uncle before him, was inspired (in part) by The Night Climbers of Cambridge to climb one of the spires of King’s College, Cambridge, and, like his long dead uncle, fell.
In The Cleaner of Chartres Salley Vickers allows us to approach Agnès Morel’s story from two directions: we start with her life in Chartres, where we are given a speedy run through her arrival in the town twenty years ago and how she has ended up cleaning the eponymous cathedral, as well as a range of local residents’ homes.
We’re then taken back in time to her infancy and childhood as an orphan in the care of a community of nuns, until an unplanned pregnancy leads to a mental breakdown and stints in various psychiatric institutions.
These twin narratives allow for a large cast of characters, some sympathetic, others not, and a surprising number of foreign residents. And there is a hint of Chocolat in this novel – the setting in provincial France, a mysterious female protagonist, unspoken thoughts and desires.
I was sure I’d read this before, but there’s no entry for it on “Reading“, so I decided that either I hadn’t or it had been so long ago that I’d forgotten….
As it turns out, I have read it before, but re-reading Instances of the Number 3 was no hardship – I just twigged the twist earlier this time round. Peter Hansome’s accidental death results in his three lovers crossing paths in a style that’s a little bit ‘Anita Brookner’, but with a twist.
A lovely book – the kind where when you get to the last page you return to the start again and read everything with fresh insight. As with other Salley Vickers’ novels, art comes to into play, ending up centre stage – I really enjoy the vicarious art education I get from her books. And if you’re reading the hardback, take note of the dust jacket.
I had not realised that Salley Vickers had a former ‘life’ as an analyst; I presume she has drawn upon her experiences from that time in writing The Other Side of You, particularly in capturing the characters, their stories and inner thoughts and self analysis. It’s not a happy book, but I found it a real page turner – given the opportunity I would have read it in one sitting. Instead it was evenings and a train/replacement rail journey between St Pancras and Milton Keynes.