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Book Club Review: The Virgin Blue

February’s Book Club explored Tracy Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue.

Chevalier is most famous for her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring but this debut introduces many of the themes that Chevalier brings into her later work, including a love of history and art.

The Virgin Blue is beautifully and carefully described with a lot of time spent on sensory depiction.

Although a historical novel, at heart it is a domestic drama. When Ella, a young American, moves to France, she finds her life begins to intersect with her ancestors in unusual ways. Once there, Ella looks into her family history and her ancestor, Isabelle, so the novel follows the pair in tandem.

The mystery of her ancestor’s life is compelling and certainly kept us reading till the end.

Although not the focus of the novel, the depiction of rural religious practices and how religious persecution manifested itself on the ground was really illuminating to read.

When the anti-Catholic feeling brought about by the arrival of Protestantism in the small village overthrows the village’s cult of the Virgin, Isabelle is shunned and suspected of witchcraft due to her red hair (a similar colour to depictions of the Virgin) and her position as midwife. It definitely brought the complex theology and conspiracies of kings and queens to life in a manner many of us found comprehensible.

However, much of the novel is quite stylised with metaphorical moments that add layers of meaning. It does add a certain contrivance at odds with the rest of the novel and some of us found is a little obvious.

Overall, the novel was an enjoyable read. The end came abruptly which was a shame after such a complex weaving of the story up until that point. Yet that is more of a compliment than a complaint.

After reading several historical fictions set in 16th century France, the Book Club have decided to read some non-fiction. This aims to contextualise some of what we read and give us a deeper understanding of the period before we move on to wider historical novels.

We plan to read The Huguenots by Geoffrey Treasure, a thoughtful historical account of the Huguenot experience, which is available in our shop. We will be focusing on a section of the whole book (Part 3: Religious Wars) but you can read more if you feel daring!

We will meet to discuss it over teas and biscuits on Thursday 29 March at 2pm. The Book Club is free so please bring your friends.