Monday, 24 January 2011

Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers

Retired spinster Julia Garnet has been an uninspiring history teacher and lives a narrow life in an Ealing flat with her friend Harriet.  When Harriet dies, the unexpected void forces Miss Garnet to suddenly decide to live in Venice for several months.  The move leads to Miss Garnet meeting new people and into realising that she has been blind to people and opportunities.  The interwoven parallel apocryphal story of Tobias and the Angel Raphael share the theme of overcoming blindness and accepting change.

I thought the audiobook was excellent as Miriam Margolyes is such a fabulous reader, the characterisation was perfect. 
Julia Garnet is a clever, but rather naive lady, who has closed herself from life with few friends and little fun.  She is judgemental and blinkered, strong in her atheist and Communist views with little tolerance for others.  The move to Venice is completely out of character but the city entrances her with its plethora of churches and religious images.  The people she meets, although not necessarily what they first appear, lead her to greater awareness.  
The story unfolds very gently and Julia gradually becomes more open, realising she never appreciated Harriet when she was alive and how she has belittled people for not sharing her views.  As she widens her interests Julia is able to understand, accept and forgive others. 
Ultimately it is Harriet, with her penchant for silly hats and inappropriate shoes, who gives Miss Garnet the opportunity to make a permanent change and although I felt the ending was a bit too neat and would have like it to be more ambiguous, I really enjoyed the book. 
I wasn't sure about the Book of Tobit sections at first, mainly because I have very little biblical knowledge and don't really go for religious themed books, but as I got further into the story the links really worked for me and I wished that I was a bit less of a dunce in this area!
What really made it for me was the gorgeous setting of Venice, the descriptions were evocative and beautifully done - I was there. (Even stuck in traffic on the motorway, going to work!)