28/09/2012

The Glass Painter's Daughter (by Rachel Hore)

I first came across Rachel Hore about four years ago, when Amazon started recommending her books to me, based on what I already liked. I put one of them - 'The Dream House' - tentatively on my wishlist, and liked it very much when I read it. Since then I read a couple more, and enjoyed them too. They're character-based books, often involving a dual time-frame.

I was given 'The Glass Painter's Daughter' for Christmas last year, but my shelf of unread books is so full that it's taken me nine months to get around to reading it - and it hasn't been a quick read.

The story is told from the point of view of Fran, a young woman who is a tuba-player, travelling around the world. She gets an SOS call from Zac who works for her father in his glass restoration business, letting her know that her father has had a stroke. Fran rushes home, concerned that she had not been getting along with her father for some time, and still upset that there is secrecy - or at least silence - surrounding the circumstances of her mother's death when she was a small child.

Fran and Zac get involved in a difficult project, trying to restore a window from a church that was bombed. In hoping to find out what it originally looked like, Fran comes across a diary written over 100 years previously, by a girl called Laura. The narrative then alternates between the present and the past, as Fran not only learns about Laura and the stained glass window, but starts to discover more about her own background - and also attempts to communicate with her father.

Among other things Fran spends time with an old friend called Jo who seems oddly unpredictable, and joins a choral society which is conducted by the rather gorgeous Ben. Fran just got over a difficult relationship but finds herself more and more attracted to Ben, and it seems to be mutual...

Then there's Amber, a young and nervous girl who lives in a hostel. She is fascinated by art, and glass-painting in particular. She's also fascinated by by angels. And there are a lot of angels in the shop, including one hanging in the window.

It's quite a long book - over 400 pages - and it took me over a week, reading a chapter each evening, to get into it properly. It's rather slow-moving at first, and there's a lot of detail about the way stained glass windows are made. The author has evidently done her research well; it doesn't come across as patronising or educational, and yet I don't really read fiction to learn about a new craft. I could have done with rather less information, albeit well-presented.

However, by the time I was half-way through the book I began to find the storyline much more interesting. I did sometimes forget the various names - there's quite a cast, and with two different storylines it was sometimes difficult to remember where I was. I read the second half of the book in about three days, and found some of it quite moving.  By contrast to the beginning of the book, the last chapters seemed to race by; I found myself wanting to slow down a bit and find out rather more of what was happening. By this stage I felt I knew the characters a bit better and didn't want to gloss over their doings.

The ending worked well, if predictably so and it's the kind of book that I'm sure I'll be lending to friends. It's refreshing in that it has no bad language at all, and not even a mention of any intimate scenes - just the vaguest of hints.

There's a surprising amount of Christian content for a modern secular book; not that there's any preaching, even subtly, but there's a delightful Vicar called Jeremy who was friends with Fran's father, and who somewhat takes her under his wing.  So as well as the fairly extensive angelic theme to the book, there are talks about forgiveness, and reaching out to the poor, and more. It felt quite low-key to me, and worked well, but might perhaps be disturbing to anyone who is an atheist and unwilling to suspend their disbelief.

I'm glad I read it, and would definitely recommend 'A Glass Painter's Daughter'. Available in Kindle form as well as paperback, though not currently in print in the US.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 28th September 2012

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