‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ by Salley Vickers

MissGarnetsAngel

Fiction – paperback; Harper Collins; 342 pages; 2000.

Set in contemporary Venice but with a decidedly old-fashioned ring to the writing style, Miss Garnet’s Angel is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read.

In this startling original debut novel by Salley Vickers we meet a just-retired school teacher who has lived a fairly staid and sedate life, a natural introvert who lacks self-confidence despite her fierce independence.

When her housemate of 30 years dies, Miss Garnet finds herself truly alone. When she takes an extended six-month trip to Venice, Italy, to come to terms with her loss little does she realise the changes — spiritually, emotionally and mentally — that she is about to undergo.

In alternate chapters, Vickers also tells the ancient story of Tobias — a man who embarks on a treacherous journey unaware that he is accompanied by the Archangel Raphael — which mirrors Miss Garnet’s voyage of discovery. While I sometimes felt this interrupted the flow of the main narrative I began to understand how it enriched and illuminated what was happening to Miss Garnet. Quite a clever device, really.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, although it took me a little while to get used to the prose style which seemed slightly stilted and stuffy. But once I was immersed in the wonderful world of Venice and got to know Miss Garnet and the friends she makes along the way I truly did not want this book to end.

The beauty of the story is not so much the pitch-perfect descriptions of Venice’s ruined grandeur and her wonderfully evocative past, but in the “growth” of Miss Garnet who goes through some kind of slow metamorphosis from a shy, retiring spinster who is cut off from her emotions to an assured woman not afraid to experience life, even if that means she might be exposed to pain and heartbreak in the process. As her “frozen” personality begins to thaw, you very much warm to this delightful character.

A wonderfully warm, inspirational book, this is sure to become a contemporary classic.

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11 thoughts on “‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ by Salley Vickers

  1. Clare, yes, I remember you recommending this book. I thought it was delightful, especially as I had just returned from Venice when I read it. Funnily enough, do you remember that Miss Garnet develops a bad cough while she’s in Venice which looks like turning into pneumonia? How I laughed at that, given it’s the exact same scenario that happened to me!

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  2. I was just able to grab her latest “The Other Side of You” for $10 at the Dymocks’ sale here in Sydney. I am seriously considering making “Miss Garnet’s Angel” one of my bookclub picks. Is it that type of book?

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  3. Nutmeg, I really want to read The Other Side of You. I’ve read a lot of good reviews about it. And yes, I think Miss Garnet’s Angel would make a perfect bookclub book — plenty to discuss including art, religion, spirituality etc.

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  4. I absolutely loved loved loved this book. I read it last year or possibly the year before and it was my first introduction to Salley Vickers. I went on to read ‘Instances of the Number Three’ which is totally different but also good. My husband has read ‘Mr Golightly’s Holiday’ and pronounced it excellent (so it’s on my TBR list) and for Christmas he bought me her new one ‘The Other Side of You’.
    (Can you tell I’m a fan?)
    Happy new year!

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  5. I thought this novel was dreadful. It was old fashioned, yes and unbelievably so. The attitudes were from the last century – anti-gay, vaguely anti-semitic, misogynist and anti-therapy to boot. I admit it was somewhat compelling – in a sort of a “here comes a car crash and I can’t avert my eyes” sort of way. The plot was ludicrous and the characters completely undeveloped. More of an upscale Harlequin romance than a piece of literature.

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