by Salley Vickers
3 and a half*
Agnès Morel is a cleaner who touches lives, bringing happiness and new life to many, but to some she seems to inspire only spite and bile. There’s a mystery about Agnès that gradually unfolds across two time-lines – Agnes’ s past and present – gathering up the threads of the lives of the other characters along the way, threads that that finally come together in an unexpected way with the least probable character at the apex of the tale. The settings are beautifully written, the characters well drawn, all true-to-life personalities. There few blacks or whites here, only many shades of grey.
My only real complaint (but it’s a biggie) is that the book lacked depth – most especially in the character of Agnès herself, who seemed remote, removed from her own story as if we were watching the events of her life through a veil. I never truly warmed to her and never felt I knew her the way I felt I did with all the other characters, even the vicious ones. Many things about her history went unexplained. I was constantly asking the question, ‘why? Throughout, the Cleaner of Chartres felt as if it wanted to be a far longer book. I certainly wanted more, more depth, more detail. It’s an absorbing tale but it needed more time in which to be told.
The story is intriguing, it kept me guessing. The two threads of the story are nicely woven. There’s a true sense of anticipation and wonder about Agnès’s history – which is built up, brick by agonising brick, till past and present finally meet in a sudden flurry of revelation and event. Then the end comes far too soon. Timelines crash and the whole edifice crashes down like a bulldozed wall. The long-anticipated answer to the mystery comes too quickly and is, as a result, a bit disappointing, unsatisfying, not fully resolved and a wee bit too pat for me.
I did enjoy The Cleaner of Chartres very much, but was a bit disappointed by the end. The story seemed to promise much more than it ultimately delivered and was over much too soon.