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Miss Garnet's Angel (2000)

by Salley Vickers

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1473113,313 (3.59)61
Julia Garnet is a teacher. Just retired, she is left a legacy which she uses by leaving her orderly life and going to live - in winter - in an apartment in Venice. Its beauty, its secret corners and treasures, and its people overwhelm a lifetime of reserve and caution. Above all, she's touched by the all-prevalent spirit of the Angel, Raphael. Twinned with her journey is that of Tobias. The father, growing old and blind, is determined that his son, accompanied by an appropriate companion, should recover the family debt and allow his father to die in peace. The traveller, masquerading as a merchant - by common legend - is Raphael. The two stories interweave with parents and landladies, restorers and priests, American tourists and ancient travellers abounding. The result is an enormously satisfying journey of the spirit - and Julia Garnet is a character to treasure.… (more)
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» See also 61 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
[This is a review I wrote in 2008]

**Art, Venice and mid-life self-discovery - a refreshingly different novel.**

`Death is outside life but it alters it: it leaves a hole in the fabric of things which those who are left behind try to repair.' Thus opens the novel.

Julia Garnet and her long-standing companion and flatmate Harriet decide to retire from work together, on the same day, but when two days later Harriet unexpectedly dies, Miss Garnet decides it is time to take a trip abroad and settles upon six months in Venice. Cautious, dignified and unadventurous by nature, Julia is also a virgin and inexperienced in matters of the heart. Venice is quite a revelation.

Julia discovers feelings of passion for the first time when she comes across the Guardi panels in the Chiesa dell'Angelo Raffaele (Church of Angelo Raffaele), which depict the Apocryphal story of Tobias and the Angel. As she views the paintings ...'Something rusty and hard shifted deep inside Julia Garnet', and she goes on to make further emotional discoveries through her friendships and discoveries in the city of Venice. Julia discovers that for the first time in her life she is able to befriend others, and counts among her friends a couple she accused of queue jumping the taxi rank on her first day, a young boy, Nicco, the unsuitable and overly-attentive Carlo, a couple of young English church restorers, and a charming priest.

The ancient Jewish story of Tobias and the Angel is deftly interwoven amongst Julia's story of re-awakening and discovery. Tobias undertakes his journey of ancient times as Julia travels in the present day, and there are subtle threads between them.

Quite a surprise and not at all what I was expecting, `Miss Garnet's Angel' is a breath of fresh air to read. The unsophisticated anti-heroine, Julia, is so down-to-earth, so dignified, and for her years so naive, that she is quite plausible, believable and ultimately delightful, as she discovers each new experience and her confidence grows. A thoroughly enjoyable novel of travel and discovery and one I have no hesitation in recommending to anyone. ( )
  ArdizzoneFan | Nov 12, 2020 |
Early Reviewer Book. Julia Garnet is a great character. Retired spinster school teacher decides to live in Venice for six months after her roommate passes away. Loved reading about Venice as it becomes a character in the book. This city has a number of oddball characters that make the book interesting. ( )
  perennialreader | Aug 6, 2018 |
Purchased on a whim at Richard Booth's Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, and very glad I did!

After the death of her friend and flatmate Harriet, Julia Garnet, a middle-aged atheist Communist virgin, decides to take an extended trip to Venice. The beauty of the city awakens long-dormant passions in Miss Garnet, both physical and spiritual: she falls in love, has her heart broken, forms friendships, and even has her vision opened to the presence of the angel Raphael. Her confidence soars to inflated heights and then is brought crashingly low by an unkind word or unexpected turn of events before she learns to handle relationships gracefully (well, sort of gracefully, at least!) Those of us who have been painfully introverted and gradually come out of our shells a bit will be able to identify.

The story of Miss Garnet and her friends is interspersed with, and runs rather parallel to, a narrative of the Biblical story of Tobit. The addition of the Tobit story is inspired not only by parallels with the events in Miss Garnet's narrative, but by a series of paintings in Venice's Chiesa dell'Angelo Raffaele which themselves depict the story of Tobit. The whole book is rich with description of Venice and its artistic treasures (and makes me want to drop everything and go running off to the city itself immediately!) The book of Tobit is part of the apocrypha, which (as Miss Garnet learns) comes from the Greek word meaning 'hidden,' and there's a theme of secrets revealed and a dash of esoteric lore running throughout this book - tantalising stuff.

Rather like [The Enchanted April], this is a story of a woman who travels to Italy and unexpectedly finds herself amid the history and beauty of her surroundings. ( )
3 vote Erratic_Charmer | Feb 23, 2014 |
This novel began very promisingly. It was charming and interesting and while that remains throughout the novel I found myself drifting away from it a little.

About halfway through the book, it seemed to get bogged down by the biblical elements of the story. I'm normally a fan of theological meanderings, but this just didn't work for me.

All in all I'd say this was just interesting enough to keep me reading and not much more I'm afraid. ( )
1 vote ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
The retired history teacher Julia is a great character, and I loved following her burgeoning love affair with Venice. Not as diverted by the parallel Tobias story, but I loved the way Vickers brings the two narratives together. Really enjoyed it.

( )
1 vote Angela.Kingston | May 1, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Appearances are deceiving in Salley Vickers's new novel, which seems at first to be the simple narrative of a British schoolteacher who moves to Venice for six months after her best friend dies. But as one story unfolds into another, the novel becomes the literary equivalent of a Russian doll. There's always another drama lurking beneath the surface. At the start, the spinsterish Julia Garnet is so overwhelmed by the beauty of Venice that her defenses start to crack, allowing her to fall in love for the first time. She also forges deep friendships with a young Italian boy and an unusual pair of twins who are restoring the 14th-century Chapel of the Plague.
 
Julia Garnet, all her life a teacher, is left stranded on retirement by the sudden death of Harriet (her companion, not lover). She has the shape, the air and the biography of a Brookner heroine as she sets tentatively off to Venice to live a little. Vickers is, however, unexpectedly generous to Miss Garnet, allowing her to step out of her rented flat in the Campo Angelo Raphaelo to embrace Venice and friendship, and to discover the Zoroastrian underpinnings of the Apocryphal story of Tobias and Raphael. Vickers writes plainly, effectively and warmly. Her heroine is a wonderful snub to publishing's current belief that the over-35s are not worth writing for or about.
 
Guardian angels have attained such trendy status in American popular fiction that it's refreshing to read Vickers, a writer from across the Atlantic, whose subtle depiction of a life touched by a heavenly spirit carries not a hint of cliche. Her debut novel is an unpretentious gem of a book that charts the late coming-of-age of Miss Julia Garnet, a retired English school teacher who spends six months in Venice after her lifelong companion, Harriet, dies. Venice has a magical effect on reserved Julia: a dyed-in-the-wool Communist, she relaxes in her antipathy toward religion, and even begins to visit the local church. There, she becomes enamored of a series of paintings that tells the story of the Apocryphal book of Tobit, a tale that mixes elements of Judaism with the religion of Zoroaster.
 
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Epigraph
'If some people really see angels, where others see empty space, let them paint the angels...'  -- John Ruskin
Dedication
For Grace Fredericks, with love and gratitude
First words
Death is outside life but it alters it: it leaves a hole in the fabric of things which those who are left behind try to repair.
Quotations
The artist had painted the angel with an enquiring look, the great wings folded behind, the dark lustrous blue of a peacock's tail.
At one end of the chapel a blue mosaic of a huge Madonna gazed down.
A Titian portrait: the man with a blue sleeve. He stared out, across the slashed, billowing blue silk, with unblinking confidence.
Behind Harriet, in the blue shadow, framed in a brightening doorway, stood another figure; and looking into his eyes she beheld myriads of infinite whirlpools pulling her towards the end of time.
Long ago she had decided that history does not repeat itself; but perhaps when a thing was true it went on returning in different likenesses, borrowing from what went before, finding new ways to declare itself.
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Julia Garnet is a teacher. Just retired, she is left a legacy which she uses by leaving her orderly life and going to live - in winter - in an apartment in Venice. Its beauty, its secret corners and treasures, and its people overwhelm a lifetime of reserve and caution. Above all, she's touched by the all-prevalent spirit of the Angel, Raphael. Twinned with her journey is that of Tobias. The father, growing old and blind, is determined that his son, accompanied by an appropriate companion, should recover the family debt and allow his father to die in peace. The traveller, masquerading as a merchant - by common legend - is Raphael. The two stories interweave with parents and landladies, restorers and priests, American tourists and ancient travellers abounding. The result is an enormously satisfying journey of the spirit - and Julia Garnet is a character to treasure.

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