The Cleaner of Chartres by Sally Vickers

Just finished reading the Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers.  This is a gentle sort of read although it does contain elements of darkness when you least expect them.

The story is about a young woman called Agnes Morel.  Agnes is something of a mystery.  Nobody in Chartres really knows where she came from or very much about her past.  She turned up in Chartres some twenty years ago and has gradually made a life for herself, with a few friends, a small apartment and a quiet life.  However, Agnes is soon going to have to confront the memories from her past as old acquaintances show up and the life she has built on such shaky foundations begins to unravel.

The story is told in two alternating time frames showing us Agnes as a young girl (abandoned at birth and living with nuns at a convent in Evreux), and as the woman she is now.  I quite enjoyed this way of telling the story – I suppose the author could have chosen a more linear fashion of storytelling but I think in telling the story this way it has a more dramatic impact particularly in the way that it highlights how Agnes has changed during the two periods.  There were definitely moments where it was almost difficult to reconcile the two or to quite figure out how Agnes ever got to her current stage.

I wouldn’t say Agnes has had an easy life and you can’t help feeling sorry for her as you read on.  I think what makes it a little more sad is the way that Agnes just seems to quietly accept all that fate throws at her as though she has little expectation out of life.  That being said she has managed to find a measure of happiness and seems to have acquired more friends than she realises.

The writing style is quite lyrical and somehow manages to feel almost like a fairy story or more to the point has a feel of ‘otherness’ to it a little in the way that Joanne Harris brings that element to her story Chocolat.

It’s a very easy book to read with almost a holiday or beach feel however it had a slightly disappointing edge to it that I can’t quite pin down.  I think it could be a general ambivalence towards Agnes who, even though she seems to touch the lives of those around her, she never seems to have any real sense of happiness or well being.  There’s also the fact that some of the other characters are almost like cartoon cut out baddies.  Proper good old fashioned villains that are a little too stereotype.  Other than being a bit bitter I was never totally convinced by Madame Beck and the character assassination she undertakes on Agnes.  Also the whole plot with the baby Max was a little thin. And, I don’t think the ending was totally satisfying.  It felt a little as though the author wasn’t quite sure how to finish the story herself or just got to the point where she decided enough was enough.

But, criticisms aside I did enjoy this.  It is quite a lovely read and if nothing else I think it would convince anyone to want to visit the ancient Cathedral of Chartres.  The descriptions are amazing.

I suppone if I was going to say what this book was really about I would ultimately describe it as a book about forgiveness.  How your life isn’t necessarily set in stone due to events in your past and how you can make changes if you want to.

2 Responses to “The Cleaner of Chartres by Sally Vickers”

  1. TBM

    I think I might pass on this one. But I’m curious about the Cathedral of Chartres–just what I need, another place to visit 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      It sounds and looks amazing. I’ve been taking a look on Google. Would definitely think of paying it a visit if I was in that region.
      Lynn 😀

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