I decided it would be appropriate to play my tape of Gregorian chants while writing this review. I should have listened to this while I read Miss Garnet’s Angel it might have helped me focus on the many storylines in this novel. Imagine combining Peyton Place, A Death in Venice, The Old Testament, and A Room with a View into one book, and you have an idea of how much Salley Vickers tries to accomplish in Miss Garnet’s Angel.
Salley Vickers has created a wonderful character - Julia Garnet (that’s MISS Garnet, as Julia would emphasize), a very proper Englishwoman, a retired schoolteacher, who decides to winter in Italy. Vickers transplants this tightly bound and well-pruned English rose into the culturally rich soil of Venice and, lo and behold, Julia begins to blossom. Julia embarks on a journey that leads her through the three F’s of her life:
fear, faith, and friendship. As if that isn’t enough, Vickers weaves an Old Testament story into the plot and practically hits the reader over the head with coincidences that crop up continually in Julia’s sojourn. For example, Julia stays at the Campo Angelo Raffaele, (Raphael) a diptych of a blue-winged angel (Raphael) is stolen, characters from the Old Testament story, Tobit and Sara, are mirrored in their modern day equivalent in Toby and Sarah; both couples are brought together by – wait for it – Raphael! We are told, more than once, that Raphael’s name in Greek means “God’s Healing.” Okay, we get it; Julia and many of the characters she encounters are damaged people and are gradually being healed. Julia overcomes her fear of the unknown, she rediscovers her faith, and develops deep friendships in Venice in seven months - more than her entire life in England. As Julia says “When I came to Venice I’d never really seen beauty before…I’d never really let it inside me. . .” Yes, Miss Garnet is awakened to the world around her and for the first time in her long life she forms meaningful relationships.
A large part of the novel involves the act of interpretation. How do we interpret the world around us? Can we believe our eyes? Can believe our memories? Can myth become reality
- and vice versa? Pieces of the story are saturated with this theme and I enjoyed these parts most of all. I lost interest in the retelling of the Old Testament story and began to look upon these sections as interruptions. There are several complicated storylines at play in this novel and I had to put the book down many times so I could get the relationships and scholarly tracts straight. I rolled my eyes when Julia became an amateur sleuth and confronted the thief who stole the diptych. Vickers had an excellent cast of characters and an interesting story full of death, love, myth, faith, truth, hate – she didn’t need to throw in ghosts, mystic visions and a scene reminiscent of a Murder She Wrote episode.