Thursday, 4 July 2013

Review: The Cleaner of Chartres

The Cleaner of Chartres
Salley Vickers
"We are all better off dead, in a way, I suppose," said the Abbe Paul. "But I do believe that we have a duty to try to keep on living."

I love a bit of Salley Vickers (Mr Golightly's Holiday is a brilliant read), mostly because she doesn't disappoint. I was certainly not disappointed with The Cleaner of Chartres.

The novel follows the life of orphan Agnes Morel who arrives in Chartres as a young woman and is slowly absorbed into the community as a cleaner, babysitter and general handy-woman. Every knows who she is but no-one really knows her. The novel is told through a sort of dual narrative as we learn about Agnes's less from perfect past at the same time as we experience her present. I liked this technique and I think it is cleverly written and devised.

Agnes is mysterious and by the time she arrives in Chartres she has had a hell of a life. I think as much as her past and her attitudes are revealed I don't think we ever really know Agnes. She remains an enigma right through until the end and I finished it wishing there was more just so I could find and peel back the final mystery. I do love a book that leaves you like that, though. It has such an impact.

In quite typical Vickers style the novel is dotted with snatches of dark humour. Vickers comments on the characters and often precedes such comments with 'naturally'. It amused me, anyway. Particularly this: 'He tried his best but the wedding night was the biggest flop, if you'll pardon the pun'.

It is essentially a character study of a small French town. Each character is revealed in relation to their contact with Agnes. She has an effect on everyone she meets and this is narrated well without making her seem too unreal and irritating. The emphasis on gossip, particularly malicious gossip, fits well with the setting. I actually got so mad at some of the characters I had to put it down and pick it up later when I'd cooled off.

I was reminded a lot of Joanne Harris's Chocolat (another goodun) which is no bad thing but there were obvious similarities: small French town, mysterious female protagonist with a past, gossip, winning over the locals...I am pretty ambivalent about these similarities though because they are still two very different books but it's worth pointing out.

In a nutshell, Vickers has done it again. An intriguing, enthralling and humorous novel that I would obviously recommend to everyone (even more so if I know they've read Chocolat).

I received the copy via netgalley (thanks).



  1. I haven't read Chocolat but really want to, so of course I love the sound of this one too.

    1. Chocolat is so good. The book and the film actually! I would recommend both books :)

  2. I was really curious about this when I first saw it, glad to hear it's good. I'm a fan of Chocolat, so I imagine this might be a good pick for me!

    1. It is good. It's one of those books that once it's got you, you can't help but keep reading. I think it would be perfect for you if you like Chocolat!

  3. I could use something humorous soon! Thanks for the review of something I should really read!


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