lunes, 24 de mayo de 2010

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier presents a vivid story. It features two central characters, both women, who inhabit the same places but are separated by four hundred years. The two women discover not only similar experience, but also suffer similar responses, perhaps because they share the same genes. The two women are of the same stock.

Ella Turner is an American, a trained but not practising midwife, who has moved to France. Her husband, Rick, has a new overseas posting. They seem to get on well, but Rick is very focused on his career and hardly seems to notice how difficult is Ella’s transition to European life.

Ella’s surname, Turner, is in fact derived from the French Tournier. There is a recorded immigrant in her family’s past. So life in France is potentially a return to roots of a kind and she decides to take the opportunity to do some research. Luckily, her family used to live in the region where she and Rick have settled. And thus she discovers a family of Hugenots, French Protestant converts who migrate to Calvin’s Switzerland in search of security and tolerance. As Ella carries out her search, her hair, perhaps coincidentally, changes colour.

Isabelle de Moulin was the ancestor that Ella discovers. She found herself moved by a vision of the Virgin Mary in which a blue, a vivid, variable blue of a fabric features memorably. It’s a blue that appears in dreams, is recalled when her sexual maturity beckons experience. And her hair turns red, giving her the nickname, La Rousse. She is soon pregnant. And the father, Etienne Tournier, does the honourable thing, but, as is customary for him and his family, without a great deal of honour.

But there is turmoil around. There is a new faith, a protester’s church that the Tourniers espouse. Isabelle’s visions of Virgin Blue cause internal conflict, a conflict that seems to focus in her daughter, Marie. Threat of persecution forces flight over the border.

Ella, meanwhile, is learning a lot about France, Hugenots and her family’s origins. She visits a library, finds a family bible and meets a librarian called Jean-Paul, perhaps not coincidentally named after a Pope. They share and interest, pursue it and then find more in common. Ella begins to suffer blue visions of her own.

And, with her own life in turmoil, she follows her ancestors to Switzerland to uncover more of their history. What she finds shocks her and reveals how a fundamentally female energy has the power to transcend time in order to colour experience. The novel’s denouement is truly surprising and not a little shocking.

But what Tracy Chevalier does not do in The Virgin Blue is tie up all the ends or explain all detail. And this is eventually one of the book’s strengths. When all of Isabelle’s and Ella’s trials and tribulations have passed by, there are still questions, loose ends and unmade decisions. The Virgin Blue thus presents rounded characters whose vulnerabilities and inconsistencies render them thoroughly credible. There are few writers who present women as complete characters pursuing their own independent, incomplete lives, but Tracy Chevalier is one of them.

View the book on amazon
The Virgin Blue

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