Friday, November 10, 2006

[Book Review] FALLING ANGELS by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction/Mainstream Historical

Sarah Frierson reviews FALLING ANGELS by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton, 2001):

Falling Angels is Tracy Chevalier's (author of Girl With a Pearl Earring) glimpse into a changing English society during the decade between the deaths of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. Through the lens of turn-of-the-century funerary tradition, she tells the stories of two neighboring families during this decade in which both progress and changing morals and values caused much controversy.

The Coleman family and the Waterhouse family have adjacent cemetery plots and the reader quickly learns the differences between the two groups. The well-to-do, free-thinking Colemans have placed an elegant urn over their plot while the conventional Waterhouses have chosen a more sentimental angel. Although the families are quite different, they quickly find themselves true neighbors and their daughters, Maude Coleman and Lavinia (Livy) Waterhouse, become best friends.

Chevalier has a knack for intimating the voices of her characters. The story is told in a chronological fashion by each of the characters, including at times the cook, maid and gravedigger. Change and grief are explored, but more interesting are the resulting attitudes and desires that arise.

At its core, this is a novel about women, young and old. Some deal with change by grasping at tradition while others embrace new movements, such as women's suffrage. Despite their different characteristics and approaches, all eventually must travel the through the same turmoil and despair to get to the other side of the decade.

Sarah Frierson, Business and Science Department

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