That thing where you want to bang people’s heads together. That.
I found a healthy amount of frustration in reading Rachel Hore’s The Glass Painter’s Daughter. I say healthy because although it was a genuine sense of frustration that these people can’t seem to see what’s right in front of them, it made me realise that I cared that they couldn’t. We’ve all known people like that. At some point we’ve probably been someone like that and that’s a key to why this book works. It’s a book that’s invested in the ordinariness of its characters: normal people doing normal things, reacting wholeheartedly within the constraints of their circumstances. Too-beautiful-to-be-true Ben is the prime example, his handsomeness shaping the way he interacts and proving to be (how could it not!) the petard by which he will be hoisted time and again.
There’s a dual narrative here which works well, each strand mirroring the other though they’re a hundred years apart. For all our progress, it seems to say, we are still facing the same dilemmas, still seeing the same injustices, suffering the all-too-familiar prejudices. Life’s eternal struggles. How fitting then that so much of what occurs should stem from the presence of angels.
One thing that is pleasing is the lack of religiosity. Where talk of church and angels and characters of faith abound it would’ve been easy to get bogged down in patterns of behaviour and even speech that would ultimately ring hollow. Rather, Rachel Hore presents us with a well-rounded modern clergyman, choral society members with sharp-edged handbags and a church organist who is far more about the music than any particular devotion to the Lord. Then there’s Amber’s sure, unwavering and peculiarly secular belief in angels.
Even with that past timeline there’s a means of expression in the characters (I’m thinking particularly of Philip Russell) that seeks to understand, not to challenge but to root that faith in the context of their own lives.
There’s a neatness to the conclusion of the book that I will admit left me wanting thought it’s the tidiness that rankles rather than any concerns about plausibility. Hey, that’s just me! It’s an enjoyable book to read and while it may not surprise you in its conclusion you should know by now that with any book it’s really more about the journey. And in the journey there are delights aplenty.
The Glass Painter’s Daughter was re-issued by Simon & Schuster on 10th September 2015 ISBN: 9781471151880
You can find Rachel Hore on Twitter @RachelHore or at her website: rachelhore.co.uk