Our evening book club just discussed Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. This was a very pleasant surprise!
Highgate Cemetery, north London
The book is not long or exceptionally complicated but the author weaves in so much history that it is amazing. The fictional story, inspired by Highgate Cemetery in north London, England, keeps you reading and while you’re on this journey you’re learning some fascinating history about Victorians including their mourning and death rituals and also the beginnings of the women’s suffragette movement.
The story starts the day after Queen Victoria’s death in January, 1901 and ends the night before King Edward VII’s funeral in 1910. This is the Edwardian period and was, according to the author, “the transitional period between the strict social codes and elaborate commemoration of the dead, and the modern world where…death is no longer celebrated”.
The story follows two families who meet in the cemetery because their family plots are next to each other. Each family has a young daughter who become fast friends even though their mothers don’t approve. One family is middle class while the other is more upper class. One family clings to the old Victorian values even as the world is getting more modern. The story is told from shifting perspectives: wives and husbands; the two girls; the grandmother; the servants. The 20th century is coming full force and with it come disappointment and then tragedy for the families.
The author’s website at tchevalier.com is full of interesting information. While there click on any of her book titles and you’ll find all sorts of interesting facts about the history of the period she’s writing about, her inspiration to write the book, a summary and reviews. It is one of the most informative author websites.
Ms. Chevalier was born in Washington DC but has lived her entire adult life in England. Her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring sold 4 million copies and was made into a movie starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.
One book club member who has read almost all of her books said she would recommend every one. Based on Falling Angels I can definitely say I’ll be reading more of Tracy Chevalier’s books.