Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (Paperback) Plume Books, 2002 Softback. Used, Like New
FALLING ANGELS begins January 1901, the morning after Queen Victoria's death, the morning that her son, the dandy King Edward VII becomes monarch. This is a telling date to begin a novel with, and Chevalier doesn't waste any time setting up her main character, Kitty Coleman, as the archetype of the new Edwardian age. Kitty is an upstanding London lady --- beautiful, refined and very, very smart. She has a handsome husband, a plain but intelligent daughter, and a beautiful home, complete with cook and maid. From all appearances, she is completely and utterly successful and socially accepted. But those standards are Victorian to the extreme, and Kitty is a modern woman. She is bored with her family and her life and longs to be back at home with her nurturing father and brother so she can be free to study, to make art, to do whatever.
Kitty's diametrical opposite is Gertrude Waterhouse. Gertrude longs to be more than she is --- in short, the proper Victorian lady. She follows manners books, wears all the right things and instructs her two precocious daughters on how to be gentlewomen. Kitty and Gertrude (and their families) are brought together in a chance meeting in a graveyard. The families have abutting plots, and their marked social and cultural differences are immediately recognizable: the Waterhouse's gravestone features a large, romantic, old-fashioned angel, which the Coleman's want removed.
The families become further embroiled when the Waterhouses, in an effort to keep up with society, move to a more posh, more acceptable house. This house (of course) happens to be right next to the Coleman's own. Maude, Kitty's daughter, and Livy, Gertrude's oldest, join forces in friendship as the families' lives get increasingly complicated. Unfortunately for the reader, these interworkings occur at the time when the plot completely falls apart. The first misstep Chevalier makes is to have the two girls become confidantes with a gravedigger's son named Simon.