by Salley Vickers - £7.99 Penguin Books Ltd (2013)
paperback ISBN 13: 9780241963326 | ISBN 10: 024196332x
Salley Vickers, the top ten bestselling author of Miss Garnet's Angel and Dancing Backwards, returns with The Cleaner of Chartres, a perfect book club book, for readers who loved Joanne Harris's Chocolat.
There is something special about the ancient cathedral of Chartres, with its mismatched spires, astonishing stained glass and strange labyrinth. And there is something special too about Agnès Morel, the mysterious woman who is to be found cleaning it each morning.
No one quite knows where she came from - not the diffident Abbé Paul, who discovered her one morning twenty years ago, sleeping in the north porch; nor lonely Professor Jones, whose chaotic existence she helps to organise; nor Philippe Nevers, whose neurotic sister and newborn child she cares for; nor even the irreverent young restorer, Alain Fleury, who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes, her colourful clothes and elusive manner. And yet everyone she encounters would surely agree that she is subtly transforming their lives, even if they couldn't quite say how.
But with a chance meeting in the cathedral one day, the spectre of Agnès' past returns, provoking malicious rumours from the prejudiced Madame Beck and her gossipy companion Madame Picot. As the hearsay grows uglier, Agnès is forced to confront her history, and the mystery of her origins finally unfolds.
The Cleaner of Chartres is a compelling story of darkness and light; of traumatic loss and second chances. Told with a sparkling wit and captivating charm, but infused throughout with deeper truths, it speaks of the power of love and mercy to transform the tragedies of the past.
(Price & availability last checked: August 2014)