Its not often I read a book twice, but now and again a particular book will lend itself to a particular time or place in such a way that it demands a re-read. This was the case with Sally Vickers ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’. I have often commented that when travelling I like to read books set in the place I’m visiting, it brings the books to life often enhancing my travel experience.
A recent trip to Venice and a reminder from my travelling companion (my mum) about how good this book was prompted me to pick it up again. I must have read it first time around maybe 7 or 8 years ago, so it wasn’t especially fresh in my mind.
Miss Garnet’s Angel was Sally Vickers first novel published in 2010 and was described as a ‘word of mouth best seller’, which is certainly how I came across it first time around. This is a ‘coming of age novel’. Julia a lady of a certain age has spent her whole life living and teaching in London whilst living a quiet life with her friend Harriet. When Harriet unexpectedly dies, Julia decides on a spur of the moment trip to Venice. This impromptu act is completely out of character for Julia and as she begins to immerse herself into life in Venice, she finds herself behaving in other out of character ways. Julia discovers the story of Tobias and the Angel. A confirmed atheist and communist and yet she is drawn into this religious story of faith and discovery, and finds herself unintentionally on her own spiritual quest
In many ways this is a love story to Venice, and art. It explores the power they both have over Julia as she finds her self challenged and changed as Venice becomes her physical and spiritual home. Apart from Julia herself, Venice is without doubt the other main character and far outweighs any of the others who compared to Venice are mere bit part players.
This is a quiet book, and yet that does not mean it is weak. It flows at a calm even pace, there are no great peaks and troughs as the story unfolds, nor is their any violent crescendo. Yet, I would argue it is in fact powerful. It challenges sterotypes and is far more than just entertainment. It is clever and informative and genuine.
Reading this book whilst in Venice with my mum who had also recently read it made it extra special. Venice is ridiculously magical anyway but I think we would both agree that the art, the buldings and the Grand Canal became even more poignant for us seeing them not only through our own eyes but also thought the eyes of Julia Garnet.
“Venetians have made of their watery environment a way of life which is an art form”