One thing I always love from Tracy Chevalier is her theme choices to weave her stories. Either paintings or culture, Chevalier’s themes are always unique and unusual. In Falling Angles, she picked Victorian fetishism of death. Depicting the turn of the century, from Victorian to Edwardian, Falling Angels is about two families who were brought accidentally and reluctantly together by funerals.
The Waterhouses were more conservative (fanatic Victorian followers) compared to their neighbours: The Colemans, who were more moderate and progressive. On the day Queen Victoria died, both families visited their graves in London, which were located side by side, to mourn. That was how Maude Coleman and Lavinia (Livy) Waterhouse—both around 9 years old—met and then became best friends. As their families did not get along well, Maude and Lavinia could only meet and play together in the graveyard, where they befriended a gravedigger boy called Simon.
Along with the changing era, everything around the two families was evolving too. And this is what Chevalier wanted to portray. Many readers say that Falling Angels was a disappointment after Girl With a Pearl Earring (Chevalier’s best novels until today) because it lacks poignant story and strong characters. Yes, it may be true, but I think we derive something else from it in exchange: the peek into the turbulence era; how society was reshaped after the end of Victorian era; how they evolved and moved on. We get a glimpse, for example, of mourning etiquette, women suffragette movement, and how science slowly replaced superstition. And for that, Chevalier gave each character equal portion in the story by making them the narrators of themselves. Yes, we literally jump from one person’s to another’s point of view throughout the book. It’s rather annoying at first, but soon enough I got used to it; and it really become quite interesting in the end.
And so, Falling Angels might not be the best book by Tracy Chevalier, and if you analyze the writing more thoroughly, you might find that the personality of the characters seemed to be inconsistent. Richard Coleman for example; he was fond of astrology, and even promoted his daughter’s interest in it, not to mention his idea of swapping sex partner in chapter one. You would think him as liberal thinker, and that he would have given his wife more freedom. But no, when Kitty actively involved in women suffragette, Richard opposed strongly. But, maybe, it’s Chevalier’s way of emphasizing the turbulent era. It’s when people were timidly looking out for the future, while still clinging to their past. But nevertheless, time changes, and either sooner or later, everyone must going along with it.
Like I said, this book is not my best read, but it’s interesting, and is just the appropriate book to read around New Year! 3,5 / 5.