Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Cleaner of Chartres - Salley Vickers

Agnes Morel lives in Chartres, and is very much involved in the community, having several roles, including cleaning the floor of the beautiful cathedral, babysitting, sitting as an artist's model, and helping Professor Jones with his paperwork. Agnes comes over as quietly spoken, kind and independent, however, she is rather enigmatic and though she fulfills all of these different roles within the town, not that much else is actually known about her, her background or where she came to Chartres from. Slowly over the course of the story, her past is revealed, and we learn she has endured much sadness, but has also been on the receiving end of kindness too, and this has all shaped her life. One of the locals, Madame Beck, who is rather prone to gossip and making her often unfair and biased judgements about others known, takes against Agnes, and proceeds to influence events. The story is told in alternating chapters focusing in turn on Agnes life in the present day and then in her past.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and was so impressed by the writing and by the truly wonderful characterisation by Salley Vickers. The whole cast, from Agnes, to Alain the restorer working in the cathedral, to busybody Madame Beck and her accomplice Madame Picot, are brought vividly to life.  There's a lovely sense of place too, with the vivid, detailed descriptions of the architecture of Chartres cathedral making me eager to go and seek out more about this place after finishing the novel. 

There is gentle love, sadness, separation, strong bonds of friendship, faith and belief, trust and betrayal. This tale is well-plotted and by turns surprising, witty, deeply sad, and uplifting. Vickers captures and convincingly portrays such an array of human emotions and behaviour very well here; the good and the bad, highlighting redeeming features and flaws in her characters, and depicts both the behaviour people exhibit on the surface, and the deeper feelings, dreams and regrets hidden inside. I really liked how the storyline played out, how the lives of the characters intertwined, and how the past was fused with the present. I found the events in Agnes past very touching and felt it was all handled very well by the author; Salley Vickers has certainly got a strong grasp on what makes people of all types tick.

Truly a delightful, moving and beautifully written story and I am certain it will stay with me for a long time.

Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin

This book was passed on to me by a fellow reader - thanks, Sam.


  1. I hadn't heard of this one but it sounds like a beautiful and moving story. And I absolutely love the cover! Another book I will definitely have to add to my list to read when I get the chance.

    Great review!

    Wendy @ Escape Into Fiction

    1. Thanks very much for visiting and commenting, Wendy! This was a really lovely book, as I've said it was memorable and I still think about it a while after finishing it. I love the cover too. Thank you.

  2. Ohhhh...I really liked this book so much.

    Thanks for your great review.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

  3. Thank you for the review. You are right, this book does have a lovely sense of place.

  4. Yes, yes, yes! Such a wonderful book! I persuaded (forced) my mum to buy this in a charity shop the other day because I just knew she'd love it and I only have it on kindle. Salley Vickers has such an incredible talent for storytelling. So pleased you enjoyed it :)

  5. This sounds delightful - I did enjoy her Miss Garnet's Angel very much.


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