I was a huge fan of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With the Pearl Earring, which I read many years ago, but I never thought to pick up any of her other books until my aunt recommended Falling Angels. While I didn’t like it as much as I did Girl With the Pearl Earring, it was still a very enjoyable read.
Falling Angels is set at the turn of the 20th century in Britain, opening with the death of Queen Victoria and, consequently, the Victorian era and the customs and formalities that characterized it. The novel centers around two families, the Waterhouses and the Colemans, who are initially brought together by meeting at a cemetery where they have adjacent plots. Their lives soon become intertwined as they become neighbors, and their daughters, Maude and Lavinia, become best friends. Their clashing views on society (the Colemans represent a more modernist, forward-thinking way of life, while the Waterhouses cling to traditional Victorian values) serve as the backdrop to these friendships, and symbolize the chaos and societal division of the time period. Kitty Coleman’s involvement in the suffragette movement propels the story forward, her innocent actions resulting in disastrous unintended consequences for both families.
Chevalier does an excellent job of presenting early-20th century Britain in a fascinating yet informative way. She clearly conducted a lot of research in writing this book, and blends fact with fiction seamlessly, often integrating actual events and real people into the storyline without distracting from the narrative. She creates compelling characters, although her use of alternating voices to tell the story makes it difficult to connect with any one in particular. This was actually my biggest problem with the book–while I think that telling the story from different perspectives can often be an effective narrative device, Chevalier goes a bit overboard. Even though the main characters are, ostensibly, the two daughters, she gives chapters to virtually every other character, even those whose perspectives are unnecessary and superfluous. I would have preferred to have more time devoted to the girls and their mothers, so that I could have become a bit more invested in their stories.
Overall, this book was pretty good. It didn’t have a huge impact on me–I enjoyed it while I was reading it, and I got through it fast, but I sort of forgot about it as soon as it was over. It’s an interesting read that reveals a lot of information about the time period, but it ultimately felt a little too light to me. I didn’t find myself thinking about it much after I’d finished, which generally indicates that a book is only okay. It’s not a bad way to spend a few hours, though.