The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 304 pages, 1997

Rating: 7/10

Reason for Reading: I enjoyed Chevalier’s previous books, especially Falling Angels.

Synopsis: Told in alternating viewpoints of Ella, a 20th century woman who moves to a small town in France with her husband, and Isabelle, Ella’s ancestor of four centuries before, an outsider in her own time, the book explores the ties between the two women. Haunting dreams send Ella researching her family tree, with the help of an alluring librarian, Jean-Paul, to unlock her family’s disturbing past, taking her on a journey that forces her confront her own life.

Why you should read this book: An interesting premise with the mysterious tie between two women centuries apart, the book works well for the most part. Both Isabelle and Ella are fiery, independent women that provide interesting plot twists.

Why you should avoid this book: If you’re here in North America, be warned, this isn’t a new book, but Chevalier’s first book released here for the first time, so the writing feels like a bit of a letdown if you’re read her two subsequent novels. There’s also places where jumping back between Isabelle and Ella feels too jarring, or the writing feels too heavy-handed in comparing the two women’s lives.

Opening paragraph:

She was called Isabelle, and when she was a small girl her hair changed colour in the time it takes a bird to call to its mate.

Fabulous quotes:

Isabelle lay in the river again, many summers later. There were marks on her body from the two boys, and another child pushing her belly above the water. The baby kicked. She cupped the mound with her hands.
–Please let the Virgin make it a girl, she prayed. And when she is born I will name her after you, after my sister. Marie. I will fight everyone to name her that.

We were both quiet then. I shifted from one hip to the other; Jean-Paul narrowed his eyes at the evening sun. I became very aware of him standing with me on this little street in France. We’re only separated by two feet of air, I thought. I could just –
‘And your dream?’ he asked. ‘You still see it?’

‘Uh, no. No, it seems to have gone away.’

‘So, you want me to call the archives at Mende and warn them you are coming?’

‘No!’ My shout made commuters’ heads turn. ‘That’s exactly what I don’t want you to do,’ I hissed. ‘Stay out of it unless I ask you for help, OK? If I need help, I’ll ask you.’

Jean-Paul raised his hands as if he had a gun pointed at him. ‘Fine, Ella Tournier. We draw a line here and I stay on my side, OK?’ He took a step back from the imaginary line, and the distance between us increased.

Also recommended: The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys; The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory; Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland.

Also by this author: Burning Bright; The Lady and the Unicorn;Girl With a Pearl Earring; Falling Angels.

Author’s website:

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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