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Miss Garnet's Angel - Salley Vickers

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3 Reviews

Author: Salley Vickers / Genre: Fiction

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    3 Reviews
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      14.07.2010 17:06
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      A really good book

      The Miss Garnet of the title, or Julia, is a retired teacher, who has never been married and pretty much led the stereotypical life of a spinster, having only shared her home with another woman who answered her ad for a flatmate, but eventually over the years became her best friend. However, her best friend has recently passed away, leaving Julia alone and wondering how to fill her time. Having led such a sensible and fairly boring existence, she decides to do something completely unusual for her; go abroad. She chooses Venice, where she learns about Italian culture, architecture, religion, and romance at retirement age! There is a quote from the Sunday Times on the back; 'Rich, complex and haunting'. I have to say all three words describe this book accurately. Miss Garnet's personality is really beautifully unravelled as the book goes on and on. I was compelled to sympathise with such a timid woman who felt like she had nothing of value to contribute to the world when in fact she was wonderful. While she is in Venice, Miss Garnet learns about the book of Tobit; the story of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael. This story is interwoven between Miss Garnet's Venician journey. I find that interwoven stories within plots don't really work for me in novels and unfortunately this is no exception. I felt that it would have worked better if the story of Tobias had been perhaps told by a native of Venice rather than dragged out as I felt it had been. That aside, the book is on the whole an enjoyable read and intellectually satisfying with a few good twists. I did feel after reading it that I had come away with a wealth of knowledge on Venice without having gone there myself, and a desire to actually do so. My copy was published by Harper Perennial and is priced at £7.99. The cover of mine is very different than the one on the picture provided by DooYoo. It's white and rather pretty and interesting with key moments in the story illustrated in tiny pictures on the back and a picture of a tall lady in royal dress on the front holding what looks like a quill. I really liked this book and felt it was something I could really sink my teeth into, but I don't think it's amazing. Hope that helps!

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      12.05.2001 03:50
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      I am supposed to love this book. It is recommended to me (according to the cover) by John Bayley, John Julius Norwich, Joanna Trollope, Phillip Pullman, and countless literary reviewers and publications. So, as I opened the book at the first page, I had a sense of a treat in store and settled down to have my mind fed with a really worthwhile read. Miss Garnett’s Angel is set in Venice. And in one sense Venice is the subject of the story. Its waterways, churches, bridge and great squares form the backdrop to the book, but more than a back-drop, they influence the characters and bring changes into their lives. Salley Vickers captures the mystery of the dark interiors, filled with magnificent works of art, and she takes us on secret journeys into places well off the tourist trail. I can only think she must have been a resident of the city and have had privileged access to many of the places she describes for it is difficult to see how a mere tourist could have learned so much about the city. The story concerns as you might expect, Miss Garnett, a retired teacher, and most definitely a “spinster”. Miss Garnett is a tall angular woman, steel grey hair, her body “stringy like a plucked chicken”. She is severe in manner, and has spent her life keeping aloof from the people around her. Her only friends are her “companion” Harriet, another spinster teacher now recently deceased, and an opinionated bigot called Vera who is portrayed with even less affection than Julia. Following Harriet’s death, Julia decides to take an apartment in Venice for six months. She has nothing to stay in London for, so why not? The book is in a sense about the unfreezing of Julia Garnett and it is at this point that the process begins. She finds her land-lady friendly. A boy called Nicco befriends her, and she also falls in with a couple of American tourists who consistently seek her out. But she is also b efriended by Carlo, a cultured elderly gentleman who takes her to concerts and to the theatre. I need hardly say that the course of this emerging love story does not run smooth for Carlo is not what he seems. However, Julia continues her journey of new relationships and insights, all set in the beautiful back-drop of Venice, and successfully negotiates many twists and turns along the way. I will not say more about Julia’s story for fear of spoiling the book for other readers. But in a sense Julia is “unfrozen” by the events of the story and yes, she finds a new life for herself far away from the world of private boarding schools self-contained isolation. There is a very important sub-text to the book. This is the story of Tobias, as recounted in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit. The apocrypha consists of books which were excluded from the Protestant Bible, but still remain in the Catholic versions. The story concerns a son going to retrieve a large sum of money from a distant relative. He is accompanied by a hired man who is actually the angel Raphael. Raphael guides the young man through various adventures and enables him to prosper in his journey far more than either he or his father imagined. Salley Vickers interleaves the story of Tobias through the whole book, and this is supposed to enable us to see parallels between the book of Tobit and the journey of Miss Garnett. This is effective, but only to a degree. While the angel Raphael features heavily in the art and monuments Julia sees in Venice, the parallels in the two journeys are not strong. I think I would have preferred to see more synergy between the two tales, the only common factors being the themes of journey and Raphael. The supernaturalism of this book is very light. Julia sees the angel, or at least I think she does. Certainly there is a movement of light on a roof-top and one or two other numinous events. But the book does not ac tually promote a simplistic belief in angels, but rather hints that there might be something beyond the physical realm. The book as a whole is very well-written and will please anyone who appreciates a good turn of phrase. The descriptions of Venice are superb and are true to reality as is shown by the detailed map at the front of the book. Where I feel the book fails is in two areas. Firstly it is a rambling story, and not particularly gripping. I kept expecting some dramatic event to happen or some really meaningful relationship to develop but its all rather low key. The most important event is the loss and recovery of a painting, for which the intervention of angels does not really seem to be required. Secondly, Julia Garnett never becomes an attractive or likeable personality. After a great deal of unfreezing, she is still capable of extreme stand-offishness. For example, the American tourist couple had gone out of their way to help Julia but one day when alone with the wife, Julia makes an excuse and leaves because “away from her husband Cynthia was annoying”. On another occasion, one of the characters is weeps because of the memory of serious child-hood problems and Julia is reduced to speechlessness and changes the subject. She never really unfreezes at all and in one sense only befriends those who gratify her in one sense or another. It seems an awful lot of story for little character development! I regret I don’t agree with all the great and the good who have recommended this book on the cover. It’s a good read, but rather too long for the content, and not all that rewarding when you eventually finish it.

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        07.05.2001 16:07
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        Julia Garnet ('Miss, not Mrs') is a retired history teacher. She has never fallen in love, she is a communist, and her only real friend has just died. As a result she rents out her apartment in London and travels to Venice to stay there for six months in an aprtment near the Campo Angelo Raffaele. The sculpture outside featuring the Angel Raphael, a boy holding a large fish, and a dog, sparks her interest and sets her on a quest to discover what it means. On the way she discovers for the first time how alone she has been, love, and the bitterness of betrayel. Miss Garent's story is onterwoven with a re-telling of the Book of Tobit, a lost tale from the authorised version of the James I bible. Slowly parallels develop between the two stories. On the way Julia 'finds' religion. This is handled well; there is no complete giving up of her atheist values, but more a re-assessment and understanding of why religion is important. The beauty of Venice evokes in her spirit an awakening to the beauty that surrounds her. Despite many of Julia's moves towards enlightment and inclusion within the world (as oppossed to self-imposed exile), there always remains an alieness around her character. You support her, and want her to succeed, while understanding that she is not a hero, but a victim, and that she is not the most likeable of people. Sally Vickers displays humanity in all its bitterness and ego-loving self. The intrusion of the real world on Miss Garnet's always comes as a shock - a brutal ripping and shredding into her world; the outside slightly out of her grasp to understand. She can function in it, but is never wholly part of it. The book drags you through, to find out what will happen in the story of Tobias, and what happens with Miss Garnet's new found friends in Venice. The descriptions of the city are well done, and Julia's adventures thoroughly engaging. An enlightning book that makes you ponder on yourself and you behaviour to other people, and asks you to question the values you always hold as true, showing that a new environment can create an awakening of the soul. Subtly handled, with a great deal of attention to detail.

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