The Virgin Blue
Tracy Chevalier is probably best known for her 1999 novel Girl with a Pearl Earring describing a fictionalized account of the creation of Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name. She has also authored Falling Angels, The Lady and the Unicorn and Burning Bright, incidentally the only one of her novels I have not yet read. However, before any of those Chevalier wrote her debut novel, The Virgin Blue.
The Virgin Blue, like Chevalier’s other novels, weaves a tale around an object of art, but unlike The Lady and the Unicorn or Girl with a Pearl Earring the painting by an obscure artist, Nicholas Tournier, is not the central focus of this tale. Instead it is a weave of the lives of two women separated by four centuries.
Ella Turner moves to a small town outside outside of toulouse France with her husband. Her intentions for her future arer two fold, become a licensed midwife in France and get pregnant. However, life has other plans, as it usually does. Ella winds up embarking on a journey into the sordid past of her fmaily’s history with the help of a sharp tongued reference librarian names Jean-Paul. What she discoveres is the mystery of her heritage.
In the 16th century a fe wmiles from the town in which Ella Turner will settle centuries later, Isabelle du Moulin marries into the influential Tournier family. She is surrounded by the bloodshed and chaos that marks the wars of religion on the continent. Isabelle, called La Rousse, and her family have converted to the “Truth” as preached by Calvinist hardliners, but Isabelle’s fascination with the Virgin Mary does not fade and becomes a bone of contention within her family circle.
One part historical novel, two parts character study and one part murder mystery The Virgin Blue is exactly what I expected from a Tracy Chevalier novel. While I enjoyed the book immensely (it took me less than a week to read it) I did feel that it was quite a bit more clumsy than Chevalier’s other works. Perhaps this is because The Virgin Blue was her debut novel and she was not quite comfortable with her own style yet. I enjoyed the parallels drawn between the two women separated by four centuries of time but thought that many of the other characters in the book lacked the depth they required. I’m afriad I also found the ending quite romanticised and trite.
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and is looking for a fluffy read, but it is hardly one that will warrant a revisitation from me. This book falls into the category I refer to as “an airplane novel”, fun but not deep or inspiring.
Next up: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife