Sunday, January 25, 2015

"The Virgin Blue" by Tracy Chevalier

I bought this book second-hand at the Glenelg Book Exchange. I have read other books by this author in the past, including "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "The Lady and the Unicorn" which I really enjoyed reading sometime in the last 5-10 years. Her books tend to be historical novels inspired by famous artworks and bringing to life the people portrayed in them or involved in the making of the art.

"The Virgin Blue" is split between two main characters in two different time periods: Ella Turner, an American woman who has moved to France (around the 1990s?) and Isabelle Tournier "La Rousse", a red haired peasant girl living in southern France in the 1500s during a time of unrest between the Catholics and the Huguenots. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that Ella believes herself to be a member of the French Tournier family that Isabelle Tournier belongs to, and starts researching into her distant ancestory following some vivid nightmares involving a particular shade of blue and some words from a bible verse.

While the historic background in which Isabelle's life is set is really interesting, neither of the main characters really connected with me, and the "connections" felt between the 2 characters in their different lives was really not convincing enough for me. Ella in particular I found fairly superficial and immature in her actions, and a lot of the dialogue and thoughts running through her head were basically stereotypes  of an arrogant American trying to fit into a small French village but rubbing everyone up the wrong way, yet somehow not realising that it was her attitudes and actions that were contributing to her reception and therefore blaming the locals. She was always jumping to conclusions that everyone was judging her and misinterpreting situations. For example, if a local French person spoke to her in English when she tried to speak in limited French to them, she would react in this way: "Damn you, I thought. I hated that sneering appraisal, the assumption that I couldn't speak French, that I looked so American"...when in reality the local person probably was trying to be helpful and could speak better English than her French and thought she would appreciate them speaking English.
Another example: "In fact French women in the city were so different from me that I often felt invisible around them, a dishevelled ghost standing aside to let them pass....As I walked around I could feel them glancing at me discreetly, scruitinizing the shoulder-length hair I'd left a little too long in cutting, the absence of make-up...I was sure I saw pity flash over their faces".

Despite this, the book was fairly quick and easy to read, the little bits about life in the 1500s was interesting. I would have preferred more details of this time period and Isabelle's life and less of the romantic and conclusion-jumping adventures of Ella. I seem to remember enjoying other books by this author a lot more, but it was a while ago that i read them now, so I don't know whether they were more complex and well-written than "The Virgin Blue" or whether they were a similar style and just appealed to me more when I read them in my 20s.

Started reading: 25th January 2015
Finished: 27th January 2015
My score: 5/10

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