REVIEW: Falling Angels di Tracy Chevalier
TITLE: Falling Angels
AUTHOR: Tracy Chevalier
Queen Victoria is dead. In January 1901, the day after her passing, two very different families visit neighbouring graves in a London cemetery. The traditional Waterhouses revere the late Queen where the Colemans have a more modern outlook, but both families are appalled by the friendship that springs up between their respective daughters.
As the girls grow up, their world changes almost beyond measure: cars are replacing horses, electric lighting is taking over from gas, and emancipation is fast approaching, to the delight of some and the dismay of others…
Falling Angels tells a story I didn’t expect at all. Before I started reading the book I already knew the author, Tracy Chevalier, because a friend of mine had read her most famous work, Girl with a Pearl Earring, so I thought this novel told a story like the one in Girl with a Pearl Earring. Instead this book is completely different.
Falling Angels doesn’t really have a plot – it isn’t about a mystery to solve, an adventure to accomplish or two people falling in love –, instead it simply chronicles the lives of two young girls, their families and other people they meet from the age of five to the age of fifteen. The Colemans and the Waterhouses have nothing special, they are just two English middle class families with their problems, their difficulties and their secrets. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean they are dull… on the contrary I found them extremely interesting and lively. They are concrete people in a concrete world with concrete problems and this is the winning card of the novel.
Personally, I always prefer when a book is written in first person, because it is easier to understand the characters and for me it is very important to empathize with them. For this reason I loved Tracy Chevalier’s choice to give each of her characters a voice, allowing us to know and understand them through their thoughts and their words. Each character is well developed and each of them has a precise role in the novel, so thanks to this kaleidoscope of voices we have the chance of discovering how life was in the Edwardian England.
I think Tracy Chevalier did a great work in intertwining the lives of the Colemans and the Waterhouses with the narration of the events and changes that were shaking England at the turn of the century: with Queen Victoria’s death an era ended and a new era began, so the author focuses on the changes, the innovations and the improvements of the new century both in technology and mentality and shows us the first cars, the use of electricity instead of gas lamps and the power of the suffragette movement. I really liked how Tracy Chevalier gives us a picture of the 19th century English society, by presenting characters from all the social classes and by allowing us to enter the life of these two families. The author perfectly depicted the dynamic between children and parents, women and men, husbands and wives, rich and poor, masters and servants.
This novel is about a lot of things – religion, politics, abortion, death, women emancipation: it is about life in all its shapes and shades. I think that we never talk enough about social differences between women and men, for this reason I appreciated the big role Tracy Chevalier gave to the suffragettes in her novel. The suffragette movement plays a key role in the development of the story and, at the same time, it leads us to reflect on how different life for women was at the time, how much things have changed, but also how much we still need change, even today. At the time women were supposed to learn how to be good wives, good mothers and good housewives. As her grandmother always says to Maude Coleman, nobody was interested in a bright woman, who wanted to go to university and who could have smart conversations with a man. A woman had to learn to sew, to cook, to play the piano… that’s it. Among all the characters in this novel, my favorite is absolutely Kitty Coleman: she’s different from the other women of her time; she’s smart and independent; she doesn’t let other people tell her what to do, she’s a free soul who is desperately trying to escape from the cage in which she’s been trapped by her own society; she’s mischievous and even quite arrogant sometimes; she has a fire burning inside her and telling her she can’t keep throwing her life away, this fire has always encouraged her to do find a purpose to live for. I really liked how the author depicted Kitty’s anguish and inner torment and how she decided to develop her character. I’m not saying Kitty is perfect, because she isn’t: she makes plenty of mistakes, but at least she finds her place in the world. Some other characters I really liked are Jenny and Simon, because even if they don’t belong to the higher social classes the author gives them space and an important role in the story.
The ending was completely unexpected and very moving. However, I liked it because I think it was realistic… Life isn’t always happy for everybody.
Falling Angels is a well written book that helps us to understand a world which was very different from ours and it does it through the eyes and the lives of concrete women and men.
Have you read this book? What do you think about it?