I read Salley Vicker’s sensational debut novel, ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ and felt compelled to visit Venice. As the novel is a voyage of discovery, I wanted to walk miss Garnet’s steps and see everything that she saw in Venice. It’s a novel about Venice but also the rich story of the explosive possibilities of change in all of us at any time.
Julia Garnet and her long-standing companion and flatmate Harriet decide to retire from work together, on the same day, but when two days later Harriet unexpectedly dies, Miss Garnet decides it is time to take a trip abroad and settles upon six months in Venice. Cautious, dignified and unadventurous by nature, Julia is also a virgin and inexperienced in matters of the heart. Venice is quite a revelation.
Julia Garnet is a teacher. Just retired, she is left a legacy which she uses by leaving her orderly life and going to live – in winter – in an apartment in Venice. Its beauty, its secret corners and treasures, and its people overwhelm a lifetime of reserve and caution. Above all, she’s touched by the all-prevalent spirit of the Angel, Raphael.
The ancient tale of Tobias, who travels to Media unaware he is accompanied by the Archangel Raphael, unfolds alongside Julia Garnet’s contemporary journey.
Something rusty and hard shifted deep inside Julia Garnet’
The two stories interweave with parents and landladies, restorers and priests, American tourists and ancient travelers abounding.
The result is an enormously satisfying journey of the spirit – and Julia Garnet is a character to treasure.
“Made a noise in the back of her mouth and then sat saying nothing, but looking the way women do when they have an opinion they are not going to express openly. I don’t know what they think those pointed stares are if not opinions deprived of words?” Salley Vickers Miss Garnet’s Angel
The two tales do in fact reflect and comment on each other (but not I hope, in obvious ways). This reflects my view that human nature doesn’t fundamentally change, and that problems of moral choice and issues of good and evil recur throughout all civilizations, regardless of race, place or time. Another way of putting this (the old way) is that there are demons and angels, and we can choose whether or not to be be influenced by them. I also like the ancient idea – which we find in Homer and Virgil for example – that when we are helped or hindered by other people they take on the identity of the gods, or, as in this story, angels or devils.
“Then it was she saw him again. On the upper reaches of the scaffolding, a sheerness of presence, no more. It was as if he took the space from the air about him and against the darkness was etched, like the brightness which seeps through a door ajar, hinting at nameless, fathomless brilliances beyond, the slightest margin of light. Impossible to look too closely, but some way below, beneath where the long feet might have rested, she made out the girl’s huddled shape, her arms folded over her head like some small broken-winged, storm-tossed bird.”
― Salley Vickers,
Favourite parts: The hidden part of Venice I saw. With book in hand, I went to see the statue of Rafael and the dog and the girl and the fish.
Least favourite parts: Miss Garnet is the definition of a Spinster. She is alone in her fifties, always a teacher, correcting people in their misspellings which leads to a few awkward notes, like a violin played badly. Her romance with Carlos is nice – but then he turns into a pedophile? Is she imagining it? Maybe he was just a sir friendly with women? And how about all the communist party references?
Final rating: 1/5. Would recommend only if you are planning on visiting Venice.
About the church
Tradition has it that this church, dedicated to the Archangel Raphael, is one of the oldest in Venice, supposedly having been founded in 416, or 650. The latter date attaches to the legend that it was the second church founded by San Magbo. Another story says that when Attila attacked Italy for the second time Genusio, Lord of Padua, sent his family to the island of Rialto. When his wife, Adriana, arrived in Dorsoduro she vowed to build a church if her husband retuned safely. She built an oratory where the Bendictine nuns from San Zaccaria, whom she had befriended, could visit and worship. Adriana left the oratory to the nuns, who kept it up until it was destroyed by a fire which swept the whole district in 899. The church was rebuilt by the Candini and Ariana families. It became a parish church, which was destroyed by fire in 1105. The first written record dates from 1193, the year in which the church was rebuilt and reconsecrated following the fire. This church was itself demolished in the 17th Century being considered to be beyond repair. The current church was built in 1618-1639 to designs by Francesco Contino, with further work in 1676 and 1685. The façade, facing onto a narrow canal, was rebuilt in 1735, with its statue group of Tobias, Raphael, the dog and the fish dating from this time too, and said to be by Sebastiano Mariani.