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.