Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore

Glass

Reading a well-written novel is rather like embarking on a journey with strangers.   At first everything and everyone is new and slightly unsettling, but as the journey proceeds, you gradually get to know your fellow travellers.  Some you like immediately, some intrigue you, some irritate you and some you are destined to change your mind about.

Speaking personally,  for me to enjoy that journey I need a strong narrative voice, and The Glass Painter’s Daughter – one of the shortlisted books for The Romantic Novel of the Year Award – has not one, but two.

Our lead narrator is Fran Morrison, an itinerant classical musician who has travelled the world trying to escape from her painful personal memories.  When her widowed  father falls seriously ill,  Fran dutifully returns home to Minster Glass, the stained-glass shop he runs in an historic corner of Westminster.

As her father hovers between life and death, Laura picks up the reins of Minster Glass and she and the shop’s craftsman Zac take on the job of restoring a shattered stained-glass angel window in the local church – a window originally designed and installed by Minster Glass in the  19th Century.  Researching the history of the window, Fran discovers a diary, written in the 1880s by our second narrative voice, Laura Brownlow.

Double narratives can be a tricky balancing act.  Often you find one storyline more interesting  than the other and rather resent the intrusion of the less-favoured thread,  but here the two stories are so beautifully interwined – and so obviously destined to meet – as to be virtually seamless.  The story moves smoothly between the centuries, linked as they are by the angel window and Minster Glass.

But The Glass Painter’s Daughter is not a novel with its heart buried in the past.  The local community around the square is vibrantlybrought to life.  There is, for instance, a wickedly knowing description of the local choral society Fran joins,  with its charismatic conductor Ben and his  front row groupies.  Ben is a ruthlessly ambitious man, trying to galvanize his band of happy  amateurs into tackling Elgar’s atmospheric but demanding   “The Dream of Gerontius“.

As the conjoined stories of the window and Laura Brownlow unfurl in the diary, Fran’s own troubled past and fractured emotions start  to come into focus leading eventually to a resolution that is not neat, but completely believable.

In places, it could have done with some tighter editing.  The secondary storyline featuring Fran’s old friend Jo and her troubled love life was franky – for me – surplus to requirements and resolved a bit too patly.  That, however, is a minor quibble.

The Glass Painter’s Daughter is a glorious book about love, loss, redemption and reconciliation.  If that makes it sound dull and worthy, then the fault lies entirely with me.   It’s romance for grown-ups, tinged with sadness and bathed in multi-coloured light, with Elgar as its soundtrack and angels presiding.  What more could you ask?

Pocket Books.  Simon and Schuster.  2009.  ISBN: 978-1-84739-140-7.  450pp.

Last week, Moira reviewed the winning novel, Lucy Dillon’s Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts.  Next week, she’ll be looking at Miranda Dickinson’s A Fairy Tale of New York.

9 comments on “The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore

  1. annebrooke
    March 25, 2010

    Sounds wonderful, Moira! Do you think this is one I might like, allergic to romance as I am?!

    🙂

    Axxx

  2. Moira
    March 25, 2010

    You might, Anne – but don’t quote me on that! It’s well towards the lit fic end of the romantic fiction scale. I haven’t read Rachel’s previous two books – The Dream House and The Memory Garden – but I intend to. I really like the way she writes.

  3. annebrooke
    March 25, 2010

    Thanks, Moira! Definitely one for my list then 🙂 Axxx

  4. Nikki
    March 25, 2010

    I’ve picked this up and put it down so many times, intrigued by the blurb and then the front cover (yes, I was seduced by the cover!). I won’t put it down again next time!

  5. Jackie
    March 25, 2010

    This sounds very appealing, the arty stuff would definitely be of interest & I like the historical aspect as well. Definitely looking for this one.
    It was quite a poetic review, Moira, it practically sang, which was quite appropriate.

  6. Hilary
    March 26, 2010

    Oh, have to read this! Stained glass and choral music – and what sounds like intriguing structure and entwined stories.

    I wonder what connection she has to the world of stained glass. In my parish church, one of our 19th century angels was smashed (by a vagabond who broke in and was found asleep behind the altar). Somebody somewhere restored it beautifully – I can’t tell what’s original and what’s new.

  7. Lisa
    March 26, 2010

    “It’s romance for grown-ups, tinged with sadness and bathed in multi-coloured light.” What a gorgeous description, Moira. Beautifully-entwined stories AND stained glass – you know I’ll have to buy this one now. Great review.

  8. Pingback: Fairytale of New York by Miranda Dickinson « Vulpes Libris

  9. elizabethashworth
    May 29, 2010

    I’ve just read The Glass Painter’s Daughter. I thought it was well written and had much more depth than you might expect from something labelled romantic fiction. It was much more than a romance. It was about a woman’s struggle to come to terms with her past and her identity – and I enjoyed the way the ‘angelic’ theme was repeated throughout the story. I also learned a fair bit about constructing stained glass windows. I would definitely recommend it.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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