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The Cleaner of Chartres: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Salley Vickers
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

“If you enjoy the work of Marilynne Robinson, Penelope Fitzgerald, James Salter…you should be reading Vickers.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

There is something very special about Agnès Morel. A quiet presence in the small French town of Chartres, she can usually be found cleaning the famed medieval cathedral or doing odd jobs for the townspeople. No one knows where she came from or why. Not diffident Abbé Paul, nor lonely Professor Jones, nor even Alain Fleury, whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes. She has transformed all their lives in her own subtle way, yet no one suspects the dark secret Agnès is hiding.
Then an accidental encounter dredges up the specter of her past, and the nasty meddling of town gossips forces Agnès to confront her tragic history and the violent act that haunts it. 

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Agnès Morel is an enigma. Discovered sleeping on the porch of Chartres cathedral, she has become a fixture there, cleaning the cathedral and tending to the aging priests for the last 20 years. Taking odd jobs about the small town, she has made herself indispensable: organizing Professor Jones’ chaotic papers; posing for Robert Clement, who dreams of painting the perfect Madonna; helping Philippe Nevers care for his abused nephew. But it is her mysterious past that causes the bitter town gossip to begin to suspect and then accuse her of things she did not do. The unwanted scrutiny brings back memories of her past, a past she came to Chartres to escape. Through the viewpoints of the various characters and in flashbacks to her troubled past, the reader learns of Agnès’ depth and strength and the feelings that she so easily arouses in others. With a deft hand, Vickers shows us the layers of human need—to be loved, accepted, and believed—and wraps it in a structure as intricate as the cathedral itself. --Elizabeth Dickie


“Salley Vickers has created in Agnès Morel a heroine for whom we passionately want the best, even as we fear the worst…Agnès’s life is full of surprising complications. Watching Vickers conjure her large cast of characters and make her way through these is, from first to last, a huge pleasure.”—Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“There’s a timelessness about The Cleaner of Chartres…Vickers draws on an intimate understanding of human behavior.”—The Bookseller
“Vickers, who had an international hit with Miss Garnet’s Angel, writes with a sense of hopeful healing.”—Library Journal
“Realism with a subtle fairytale quality….Charming.”—Publishers Weekly

“With a deft hand, Vickers shows us the layers of human need—to be loved, accepted, and believed—and wraps it in a structure as intricate as the cathedral itself.”—Booklist
“[Vickers] does an exemplary job of exploring themes of loss and healing while ending the novel on a hopeful note…. The evocative setting adds a timeless quality to this narrative, and Vickers reminds us that the past cannot remain entirely in the past.”—Library Journal
“Salley Vickers is a novelist whose imaginative journey always promises magic and mystery. The Cleaner of Chartres shows her on top form in a rich weave of loss and redemption spiked with Ms. Vickers' irrepressible wit."—Robert McCrum, The Observer (UK)
“The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers is a subtle and ultimately joyous meditation on the nature of sin. The fairy-tale elements of Vickers’s novel are delicately layered into a contemporary moral and psychological drama every bit as absorbing as her Miss Garnet’s Angel.”—Elizabeth Buchan, The Sunday Times (UK)
“With its subtle combination of explorations of faith and love, The Cleaner of Chartres is something of a return to the terrain of Vickers’s first novel…Miss Garnet’s Angel…Each character is drawn with skillful precision.”—The Independent (UK)

Praise for Salley Vickers:
"Vickers has taken myth, religion, and secular humanism, and turned them into substantial life-affirming fiction." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A heartbreaking novel and, yes, a love story. If you enjoy the work of Marilynne Robinson, Penelope Fitzgerald, James Salter, or Anita Brookner, you should be reading Vickers."—The Washington Post Book World

"A smart, haunting exploration of love and loss."—The New York Observer

"A former psychologist herself, Vickers brings an erudite precision and an elegant perception to her lyrically poetic testament to the vitality of love and the human capacity to both seek out and run from its ennobling grace."—Booklist

“Entertains even as it considers serious questions of sin and redemption, love and loss, what we venture in this life and the reckonings we may face in the great beyond.” —Francine Prose, People

“A book to place on the shelf next to Marilynne Robinson’s haunting Housekeeping and Penelope Fitzgerald’s serene The Blue Flower....Harold Bloom once observed that a sense of strangeness in a work of art was one likely sign of greatness. Instances of the Number 3 possesses such an utterly assured, if quiet originality.” —Michael Dirda, Crisis

“A testament to the craftiness and generosity of spirit of the author, whom one hopes to hear from much more.” —The Seattle Times

“Salley Vickers has a gift for making the most unlikely settings for fiction absolutely compelling....She is a brave writer....Fresh, intriguing, and enlightening.” —The Independent(London)

Product Details

  • File Size: 1601 KB
  • Print Length: 316 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0670922129
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (June 27, 2013)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,380 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, thoughtful and engaging October 30, 2012
This is a beautifully written, thoughtful and engaging book. I enjoyed Miss Garnett's Angel many years ago and tried The Cleaner of Chartres on the strength of it. I was very happy that I had because I enjoyed it very much.

Salley Vickers is a marvellous storyteller and she very subtly creates very believable and recognisable characters, showing their inner lives with gentle penetration and, on the whole, great compassion. I found this aspect of the novel especially involving and her gently-painted psychological insights are what have lingered most strongly with me, and her portraits of aspects and origins of kindness and malice, of decency and selfishness, of humility and self-certainty and so on were very shrewd and delicately done.

Vickers also generates a wonderful sense of place, and the redemptive tale of Agnes, an orphan lost in the world and despised by some but finding her place among people who have come to respect and admire her is both captivating and wise in itself. There are notable similarities to Miss Garnett: the central character is a lonely woman who, without overtly searching, stumbles toward spiritual and personal fulfilment, the central setting is a cathedral where an ancient image is being restored and so on. Nevertheless, it works very well as a tale in its own right and I never felt I was being fobbed off with a re-hash.

You may get a flavour of the style from this: "The sun, shifting in its westward path, was already lighting the South Rose window and smudges of colour, refracted through the glass, were blessing the grey stone of the walls by the scaffolding that concealed the benign Blue Virgin." I found that, and a lot else in the book, extremely evocative and read it all with unalloyed pleasure and I recommend it very warmly - it's a really enjoyable read which will stay with me for a long time.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Loved the characters and the insights into the history and artistry of the cathedral and the town. Missed Agnes and Fr Paul especially. Now that's a sign of good writing, isn't it?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and beautiful! August 1, 2013
I was sad to see this beautiful book end. The author weaves together a tale of the rich history and lore of Chartres and her labyrinth, along with the story of main-character, Agnes. You will celebrate the power of goodness over evil, and the resilience of the human spirit, and you will yearn to visit, or revisit, Chartres. I highly recommend this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cleaner of Chartres December 23, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great story - was intrigued at how the vents of the woman's life unfolded and very sad when I'd finished
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Mina
Extended review available on Mina's Bookshelf
It took me a while to get into this story, but once I did, I found it quite interesting and enjoyable. Different, I would say. Elaborate like the facade of a Gothic cathedral, as rich and beautiful as a mosaic in a stained-glass window, The Cleaner of Chartres' opening chapters summoned my attention with an array of colorful characters, dual timeline, and poignant backstories that made a full and beautiful sense when the last piece of the puzzle was laid down in the form of a startling epiphany. The simultaneous introduction of multiple characters, as essential to the story as the central character itself, may initially confuse and distract the reader, but the inhabitants of Chartres will eventually cling to a corner of your heart with their moving humanity, quirkiness, and pitiful dramas. Salley Vickers' novel can better be described as a modern fairy tale, and a dark one at that. Of that form of storytelling, Vickers' novel features the typical plot structure, motifs, and dramatis personae. Written with the grace and sensitivity of an author who obviously has an understanding of human psychology (Vickers is a former university professor of literature and Jungian psychotherapy), this story lacks the 'fantasy' element (in its place the author introduced the 'mystical' and the 'divine') but it features all the archetypal figures populating a traditional folktale: the heroine/victim of an intrigue/spell (Agnès), a villain (Madame Beck), a donor/helper/rescuer (Jean Dupère, the farmer who found her wrapped in a tablecloth on a frigid winter night; Prof.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read. November 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was quite a lovely story, moved along at a good pace, and the characters and places are all very interesting.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hollow at the center July 1, 2013
Agnes Morel was a foundling, raised in a convent until she became pregnant and had her son adopted away against her will. After being accused of attacking a woman whom she believed had taken her baby, she was placed in a mental home for some years. Now, 20 or so years later, she lives in Chartres. She is a cleaner at the cathedral and does housecleaning for several townspeople.

Though Agnes is described as beautiful and is a diligent worker, I found it hard to get a feel for who she really is. She is passive to the point that I wanted to tell her to get some backbone. People can be horribly unfair to her and she does nothing to resist.

I finally decided that although Agnes is the central character, that doesn't necessarily mean the book is about her. She is a figure whose passivity allows the true souls of the other characters to reveal themselves. Some characters' souls are revealed as being rotten and shriveled, others' are pure and loving.

Looking at the book this way did help me appreciate it more, but not enough. It still bothered me that Agnes was so passive, because I just found her uninteresting. When two other characters fall in love with her, it seemed inexplicable. A romance suddenly pops up, but it seemed half-hearted--and as if the wrong man was involved.

The setup for this book seemed like something Joanne Harris might write, but she would have added a lot more life to the story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother with this one … really.
Waste of my money and time.
Published 8 days ago by JO-ANNA K. MOTYLEWSKI
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Beautifully written I loved it. Lots of clever subtle humour and great characterisation.
Published 11 days ago by Sue O'Connor
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Heart-warming story in an interesting historic environment.
Published 15 days ago by Alexandra Krack
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming.
An absolutely charming book. Beautifully written and well-developed characters.
Published 2 months ago by OzKathy
4.0 out of 5 stars Things that happened to an orphan girl who makes good with her life.
A good interesting novel taking place in France.
Published 3 months ago by Carol S
4.0 out of 5 stars Grab the book you won't be disappointed
As a psychotherapist Salley Vickers uses her skills to paint wonderful characters. This story shows there is sometimes a just measure of punishment without using the legality of... Read more
Published 5 months ago by angela highstead
4.0 out of 5 stars Good bedtime reading
Good story - I liked the setting in Chartres! I did lose track of things but I think that's my fault for not concentrating properly.
Published 5 months ago by kalty
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Intrigueing and gripping story in a colourful setting
Published 6 months ago by Donna Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read
this was a book club read, I really liked it, I was afraid it wasn't going to get tied up in a pretty bow, and there were a few loose ends but I did like the ending
Published 6 months ago by A. J. Sullivan
3.0 out of 5 stars so
so so
Published 7 months ago by Tønsberg
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