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ISBN 13: 9780007108268

Falling Angels

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9780007108268: Falling Angels

A welcome return to a writer whose last book, the much loved and admired Girl With a Pearl Earring has been such an outstanding success. 1901, the year of the Queen's death. The two graves stood next to each other, both beautifully decorated. One had a large urn -- some might say ridiculously large -- and the other, almost leaning over the first, an angel -- some might say overly sentimental. The two families visiting the cemetery to view their respective neighbouring graves were divided even more by social class than by taste. They would certainly never have become acquainted had not their two girls, meeting behind the tombstones, become best friends. And furthermore -- and even more unsuitably -- become involved in the life of the gravedigger's muddied son. As the girls grow up, as the century wears on, as the new era and the new King change social customs, the lives and fortunes of the Colemans and the Waterhouses become more and more closely intertwined -- neighbours in life as well as death.

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Set among the sweeping skirts and social upheavals of Edwardian London, Tracy Chevalier's Falling Angels is a meditation on change, loss, and recovery. Her central characters are two young girls of the same age, whose family plots are situated side-by-side in a cemetery modeled on Highgate. Lavinia Waterhouse is respectably middle-class, devoted, like her conventional, doting mother, to the right way to do things, although suspiciously well- schooled in subjects like funerary sculpture and the English practices of mourning. Her friend Maude Coleman comes from a slightly more privileged and free-thinking background. In contrast with Lavinia's mother, Maude's mother Kitty Coleman is well-educated by the standards of the day, and it has made her restless and irritable. But neither her reading, nor her gardening, nor her affair with the somber, high-thinking governor of the cemetery is enough for Kitty. She comes alive only when she discovers the women's suffrage movement, and her devotion to the cause takes her away from Maude in every sense.

Although the point of view shifts between many characters (with even the Coleman's maid and cook getting their say, sometimes unnecessarily), Falling Angels is essentially the children's story, since it is their lives that are most open to change. The narrative spans exactly the years of Edward VII's reign, from the morning after his mother Queen Victoria's death in January 1901 to his own death in May 1910. Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring) deftly uses the nation's dramatically different mourning for these two monarchs to signal the social transformations of the period. Readers at ease with English history will find Falling Angels an unusually subtle novel, with an emotional range that recalls the best of the Edwardian novelists, E.M. Forster, and his quintessential novel of Edwardian manners, Howard's End. --Regina Marler

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Tracy Chevalier

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