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The Cleaner of Chartres: A Novel Hardcover – June 27, 2013
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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)
Top customer reviews
The author understands human complexities. Agnes is not an ordinary character, though her issues, identity, relationships, justice and trust, are universally engaging. She was abandoned at birth and Vickers reveals grim aspects of such a start to life. Though in much smaller ways for most of us, we connect to hardships, injustices and battles, and any triumphs along the way.
Vickers successfully made me care about what had happened and what would happen to Agnes. Agnes is a simple, self-contained, resilient character, constant amidst curiosity and rumour - until, finally, the balance is tipped. She has a spiritual quality and we become aware of an intellectual depth below her simple exterior, a depth perceived by only those around her who are not confined to conventional judgements. In fact, convention is held up for scrutiny in many ways, in this story.
My only reservation about the book is in the resolution between Agnes and Alain. I felt Vickers hadn't quite sorted this point. Fleetingly, this part of the story generated flashbacks to the forbidden, under-the-desk-top reading in the formulaic romance era stage of my youth. But that was just a brief moment or two out of a thoroughly satisfying read.
This was a book that kept me reading when I really ought to have been doing other things.