Title: Falling Angels
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Fiction, Novel, Post-Victorian Age
First Published: 2002
Told through the shifting perspectives of the members of two very different families in turn-of-the-century England, Falling Angels highlights Tracy Chevalier’s ability to create a cohesive piece of fiction out of a myriad of mindsets. The novel is set in the early 1900s, opening with the death of Queen Victoria. The Queen’s death ushers in this new age of awareness and revolution against the rigidity of what was considered the ‘norm’ during this period.
In this novel, Chevalier touches on Victorian sensibilities that flit between frivolity and inflexibility. Kitty Coleman’s boredom with her life as a married woman pushes her to deny her husband, Richard, and child, Maude, affection. Her cold nature affects sensitive and straitlaced, Maude, who is terribly lonely as an only child.
Maude eventually finds the companionship she craves with Simon Field, the son of a gravedigger, and Lavinia Waterhouse, the spoiled child of the Coleman’s graveyard plot neighbors. The Waterhouses are quite different from the Colemans. For starters, Lavinia’s mother, Gertrude, is a stickler to tradition. She sees Kitty as inappropriate, though she cannot exactly dissuade Lavinia from being friends with Kitty’s daughter. The two families eventually become neighbors, and while niceties are exchanged once in a while, Gertrude and Kitty find that their only commonality lies in Maude and Lavinia’s friendship.
The relationship between the two families become even more estranged when Kitty, after some traumatic events, immerses herself in the Suffragette movement. Take note, the book only starts to really pick up at this point. The series of tragedies in the book seems crammed in the last hundred pages.
Though Falling Angels has been lauded as being ‘engaging,’ ‘appealing,’ and ‘bewitching,’ in this reader’s humble opinion, the book mostly fails to maintain interest due to the marked similarities between the voices of some of its heroines. Kitty’s initial venture into the Suffragette movement even falls somewhat flat, for though the movement itself ought to be exciting enough, Kitty’s main mover, a certain Caroline Black, has caricature-ish elements to her personality. The movement feels cartooned somehow. (Oh Virginia Woolf, how you’ve spoiled me.)
Falling Angels’ saving grace comes in its final hundred pages. The pace picks up, the characters grow up, and essentially, the novel becomes a worthy read. Now, would one consider it Chevalier’s best work? Well, in this reader’s case, No. I’d recommend that first-time Chevalier readers go for either Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Lady and the Unicorn.