In the second of my series on my favourite writers, I’m looking at the work of Tracy Chevalier.
For some writers it can be a gamble when you open their latest work and it takes you a few chapters to relax into the new world that they are taking you. This is definitely not the case for Chevalier. She attacks historical fiction as though it is modern fiction and her work is so accessible. Instead of feeling like an observer, you feel as though you inhabit the specific worlds she takes you to.
Below are my top five of her works but I will say that I haven’t had the chance to read her latest two works so this list will probably be out of date before I’ve even published it.
Chevalier will be best known for her book The Girl With A Pearl Earring which was made into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. For me, this is her weakest book and hasn’t made it onto my list.
So without further ado, I will get started:
- Falling Angels
Chevalier is perhaps best known for her strong female characters and this is totally evident in the unlikely friendship pairing of Lavinia Waterhouse and Maude Coleman who meet in a London cemetery as the country reels from the death of Queen Victoria. It’s a perfect study of the fear and exhilaration that our country found itself in following the death of the monarch of morals and the awakening of the fight for women’s votes.
- Remarkable Creatures
So a totally different set up but a similar theme, this novel follows the life of real life fossil hunter, Mary Anning. She was a controversial figure who started to question the theory that God wasn’t the creator but evolution, this was long before Darwin had his lightbulb moment, so it was controversial in itself but coming from a woman was heresy.
In the same way as Falling Angels, the novel’s heart is about the relationship between Mary Anning and other lead character, Elizabeth Philpot who is the new comer to the seaside and discovers Anning and her collection.
- The Last Runaway
As the queen of keeping us guessing where the next story will be set, Chevalier set this one in America before the Civil War. Honor Bright travels to a Quaker settlement in Ohio and spends her time quilting as a distraction from an America she hates and a husband and his family who aren’t too keen on her.
Honor finds herself drawn into the Underground Railroad where people helped slaves escape plantations in the south to the more tolerant north. The tension of whether she will be discovered is palpable and there are some real page turner moments in this book.
- Burning Bright
We’re back in England for this, London to be precise and the Kellaway family move to London and next to renowned artist, William Blake. Jem Kellaway befriends Maggie Butterfield and in a theme Chevalier excels at, opposites attract. London is reeling from the French Revolution and the portrayal of Blake is excellent.
- The Virgin Blue
A lot of people feel that Chevalier didn’t get into her stride until her second novel but I absolutely loved this debut. It was a fascinating duel story linked through a blue dress. We have an American lady in Europe struggling to deal with her new life interlinked with a medieval girl in an entirely different unhappy marriage.
I really enjoyed the time jumping and the link through the blue dress. It kept me interested and I remember thinking I had discovered a writer who was different from the norm.
This list isn’t to say that Chevalier’s other works aren’t worthy of a read but five is a nice number and I thought I’d stick at that. Have you read any Tracy Chevalier novels? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments.