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The Cleaner of Chartres [Format Kindle]

Salley Vickers
5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)

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The old town of Chartres, around which the modern town unaesthetically sprawls, is built on a natural elevation that rises from a wide, wheat-growing plain in the region of Beauce in central France. Visitors and pilgrims, who since earliest times have made their ways to the ancient site, can see the cathedral of Notre-Dame from many miles off, the twin spires, like lofty beacons, encouraging them onwards.

Five successive cathedrals have stood on this site; all were burned to rubble save the present cathedral, which grew, phoenix-like, from the embers of the last devastating fire. On June 10th, 1194, flames sped through Chartres, destroying many of the domestic dwellings, crowded cheek by jowl in the narrow medieval streets, and all of the former cathedral save the Western Front with its twin towers and the much more ancient crypt.

As the fire took hold, the forest of roof timbers crashed burning to the ground amid frenzied clouds of burning cinders; the walls split, tumbled and collapsed while lead from the roof poured down in a molten stream, as if enacting a scene of eternal damnation in a Last Judgement.

The reaction among the citizens of Chartres was one of uniform horror. According to contemporary reports, they lamented the loss of their beloved cathedral even more than the loss of their own homes. Perhaps this was in part because, as today, their livelihoods depended on the many parties of pilgrims visiting the town to pay reverence to its most venerated relic, the birthing gown of the Virgin Mary, a gift to the cathedral by the grandson of Charlemagne, Charles the Bald.

Three days after the fire was finally quenched, some priests emerged from the crypt with the marvellous cloth still intact. As the fire took hold, they had apparently snatched it from its hallowed place and retreated for safety into the most ancient part of the cathedral, the lower crypt, the province of Our Lady Under the Earth, incarcerating themselves behind a metal door which had held firm while the fire raged destruction outside. The missing men had been presumed dead. The holy relic presumed lost. When it was seen to have been restored, and its rescuers returned to safety, it was agreed that this was a miracle, a sign from Our Lady that the town should build in her honour an edifice even finer than before.

The new cathedral was completed within twenty-six years, thanks to the devotion and hard labour of the townspeople, who pulled together to create a building worthy of the Mother of God with whom their town had so fortunately found favour. The bishop and his canons agreed to donate the greater portion of their salaries to aid the cost of the building works. Sovereigns of the Western world were approached for funds, and many dug deep into their coffers to ensure that their names were attached to the noble enterprise, which would gain for them fitting rewards in the life to come. People from neighbouring dioceses brought cartloads of grain to feed the citizens of Chartres, who were giving their labours for nothing more than the love of God. The whole astonishing structure was conceived, designed and accomplished by a series of master builders, men of clear enterprise and shining genius.

But of them and their companies – the scores of talented sculptors, stonecutters, masons, carpenters, roofers, stained-glass artists and manual labourers who implemented their plans – nothing is known.

Nor was anything known of Agnès Morel when she arrived in Chartres nearly eight hundred years after the building of the present cathedral commenced. Few, if asked, could have recalled when she first appeared. She must have seemed vaguely always to have been about. A tall, dark, slender woman – ‘a touch of the tar brush there’, Madame Beck, who had more than a passing sympathy for the Front National, chose to comment – with eyes that the local artist, Robert Clément, likened to washed topaz, though, as the same Madame Beck remarked to her friend Madame Picot, being an artist he was given to these fanciful notions.

As far back as Philippe Nevers could remember Agnès had been around. She had been an occasional babysitter for himself and his sister, Brigitte. Brigitte had once crept up with a pair of scissors behind the sofa, where their babysitter sat watching TV, and hacked an ugly chunk out of her long black hair. Philippe had pinched Brigitte’s arm for this and they had got into a fight, in which Brigitte’s new nightgown was ripped by the scissors, and when their mother came home Brigitte had cried and shown her both the nightgown and the pinch marks.

Although their mother had punished Philippe, the boy had not explained why he had set about his sister. Agnès was odd, with eyes, he might have suggested, had he overheard Robert Clément, more like those of the panther he had seen at the zoo, pacing up and down its cage in a manner the crowd found amusing. Philippe liked Agnès in the way he had liked the panther and had hoped that it might escape and get a bit of its own back on the laughing crowd. With the sensitivity which, even at age six, was a hallmark of his character, he knew their mother would be quick to blame Agnès for the episode with the scissors. So he bore the unfair punishment in silence.

Professor Jones, had he been aware of it, would have been able to date Agnès’ arrival quite precisely, since it was the same summer that his second wife left him. The weather had been uncharacteristically inclement, even for central France, which does not enjoy the dependable climate of the South. Professor Jones had taken a sabbatical year in order to embark on a long-cherished research project of documenting each of the supposedly four thousand, five hundred sculptures which embellish the nine great portals of Notre-Dame in Chartres. The work was to be definitive in the field and he had dared to hope that it would make his name. But the parochialism of the small town, the depressing steady drizzle and her husband’s preoccupation with insensate figures of the long past had lowered Marion Jones’s spirits, the very spirits which her husband had hoped to raise by bringing her to the famed medieval town.

This mismatch in taste and comprehension was only one of a long list of incompatibilities between Marion Jones and her husband. That summer, a renowned Japanese cellist visited from Paris to play Bach’s Suites for unaccompanied cello at one of the cathedral’s prestigious summer concerts. Marion, bored to tears by the life she was leading, wandered into the cathedral while the cellist was practising, and it was noted by Madame Beck that he was not unaccompanied when, a while later, he left the cathedral to return to his hotel. Not long after the concert, Marion took to making shopping trips to Paris, which is barely an hour’s train ride from Chartres. The trips became longer, and more frequent; one day she left with a larger than usual bag and never returned.

Professor Jones waited mournfully, long after his sabbatical year had come to an end. Finally, giving in to despair, he resigned his university position and made a permanent home in Chartres, but not before a small parcel containing a wedding ring had arrived with a note telling him where he could ‘stick his bloody sculptures’.

The current dean, the Abbé Paul, might have remembered Agnès’ arrival since he too, at that far date, had only lately come from his seminary to serve as a curate at the cathedral. He had found Agnès under a man’s coat, asleep in a convenient niche in the North Porch. Although the dean at the time, Monsignor André, a stern administrator, had let it be known that tramps should not misconstrue the nature of Christian charity by taking the cathedral for ‘a doss house’, the young priest found himself turning a blind eye to the intruder.

Paul’s father was a Highland Scot who could trace his family line directly back to Lord George Murray, the general who had led the ill-fated Jacobite rebellion against the English in the rising of 1745. The general’s descendant had met his future wife when she had gone with a friend to visit the festival at Edinburgh, where he had held a research fellowship at the university. The marriage was a successful one: but Charles Murray had succumbed, after a short fight, to his French wife’s pressure to return to her native land in search of the light she bitterly missed in the long Scottish winters.

The strain of rebellion in him succumbed to his greater fondness for his wife and concern for her happiness. He gave up his study of Ovid’s metaphors and became a respected Classics master at a school in Toulon.

But a measure of his father’s dissident heritage salted the young Paul’s character. The sleeper in the cathedral porch was a young woman; she looked peaceful. For all Dean André’s strictures the young Paul could not bear to awaken her to what he guessed was a grim reality.

Quite how Agnès had managed since those days was a subject of nobody’s speculation. She had made herself useful in the small ways that help to oil the wheels of daily life. She was an accomplished ironer, a reliable babysitter and was known to ‘sit’ naked for Robert Clément (the last activity making her less desirable to some in the first two capacities). She made a reputation as a conscientious cleaner, and Professor Jones, after a more than usually bad attack of moth had made lace of his slender wardrobe, discovered that she could also darn.

Agnès no longer had need of the shelter of the cathedral when the subject of her cleaning it came up. The weather, which twenty years ago had witnessed her arrival, was repeating itself. Streams of sodden visitors – in coach parties, families and couples, as well as those travelling by choice or necessity alone, not to mention the troupes of those seeking enlightenment, historical or spiritual – were playing havoc with the cathedral floor. The once pale paving stones, quarried from nearby Berchères-les-Pierres, after hundreds of years of footfalls had darkened and pitted, which made them, as the current cleaner Bernadette often remarked, ‘hell to keep clean’.

Agnès was weeding the flower-beds before the Royal Portal when the Abbé Paul encountered her. A summer of steady rain had brought on both the weeds and Thomas the gardener’s rheumatism. His wife had put her foot down and insisted he go to a spa for a cure. And, as was often the case when a temporary replacement was needed, it was Agnès who had come to mind.

Enclosed in wicker borders, which gave the impression of large square florist’s panniers, the flowers, mainly white, had been chosen to enhance the summer evenings. Had Robert Clément been there, he might have observed that they also enhanced Agnès’ dark skin as she bent to root out the weeds. But the Abbé Paul was a man of the cloth and no doubt it was simply friendly courtesy that made him stop to greet her.

‘Good day, Agnès. I must say we are most grateful for your help.’

Agnès straightened a back blessedly free of Thomas’s rheumatism. Although she was unaware that the Abbé had let her sleep undisturbed that first night she had come to Chartres, she nevertheless felt safe with him.

‘I like them best at night.’

The Abbé Paul agreed. ‘The scent is stronger then.’

‘Yes, Father.’

‘The weather has brought on the weeds, though?’

‘Yes, Father.’

It was one of Agnès’ virtues that she didn’t say much. It made the Abbé Paul more inclined to be chatty himself though as a rule he was not a talkative man. ‘I’m afraid it’s making a filthy mess of the cathedral floor. All those wet muddy feet. And now, God help us, we seem to have lost our cleaner as well as our gardener. It’s too much for Bernadette’s knees, she says.’

Agnès stood, a trowel in one hand, an earthy-rooted dandelion, which she planned to add to her evening salad, dangling from the other. The green leaves against her long red skirt and her impassive brown oval face gave an impression, the Abbé Paul fleetingly thought, of a figure from a parable portrayed in one of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows. A labourer in a vineyard, perhaps.

It seemed Agnès was pondering, for as Paul was about to utter further pleasantries and move on, she spoke. ‘I will clean it if you like.’

‘Oh, but I didn’t mean . . .’ Now he was concerned that she might imagine that he was approaching her as a skivvy rather than for the pleasure of conversation.

‘I would like to, Father,’ Agnès said.

The Abbé Paul paused. It would certainly help. The bishop was exercised about the state of the cathedral, which meant that he was being harassed too. And Agnès was known to be reliable.

‘I would like to,’ she repeated, with emphasis.

‘Well, if you felt you could . . .’

‘I do,’ Agnès said.

So it was agreed she should start that same week.

Revue de presse

A lovely book . . . wise at heart and filled with colourful characters (Joanne Harris, Author Of Chocolat )

Subtle and utterly joyous...a contemporary moral and psychological drama every bit as absorbing as Miss Garnet's Angel (Sunday Times )

The Cleaner of Chartres is a return to form (Sunday Express )

The Cleaner of Chartres touches lightly on the seedy side of human nature (Observer )

A magical and at times sinister story about love, loss, secrets and forgiveness...with Chocolat-type charm (Scotland on Sunday )

If you're looking for a book to take you by surprise, Salley Vickers' latest is the perfect choice (Psychologies )

With its subtle combination of explorations of faith and love, The Cleaner of Chartres is something of a return to the terrain of Vickers's first novel, Miss Garnet's Angel. Certainly, it's another gem (Independent )

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1118 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 302 pages
  • Editeur : Penguin (1 novembre 2012)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0096YP4VQ
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°20.871 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Sublime 1 février 2014
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
SV as always, delivers a tender but riveting book which says so much about the human condition. Warm and compassionate.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  102 commentaires
20 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Enjoyable, thoughtful and engaging 30 octobre 2012
Par Sid Nuncius - Publié sur Amazon.com
This is a beautifully written, thoughtful and engaging book. I enjoyed Miss Garnett's Angel many years ago and tried The Cleaner of Chartres on the strength of it. I was very happy that I had because I enjoyed it very much.

Salley Vickers is a marvellous storyteller and she very subtly creates very believable and recognisable characters, showing their inner lives with gentle penetration and, on the whole, great compassion. I found this aspect of the novel especially involving and her gently-painted psychological insights are what have lingered most strongly with me, and her portraits of aspects and origins of kindness and malice, of decency and selfishness, of humility and self-certainty and so on were very shrewd and delicately done.

Vickers also generates a wonderful sense of place, and the redemptive tale of Agnes, an orphan lost in the world and despised by some but finding her place among people who have come to respect and admire her is both captivating and wise in itself. There are notable similarities to Miss Garnett: the central character is a lonely woman who, without overtly searching, stumbles toward spiritual and personal fulfilment, the central setting is a cathedral where an ancient image is being restored and so on. Nevertheless, it works very well as a tale in its own right and I never felt I was being fobbed off with a re-hash.

You may get a flavour of the style from this: "The sun, shifting in its westward path, was already lighting the South Rose window and smudges of colour, refracted through the glass, were blessing the grey stone of the walls by the scaffolding that concealed the benign Blue Virgin." I found that, and a lot else in the book, extremely evocative and read it all with unalloyed pleasure and I recommend it very warmly - it's a really enjoyable read which will stay with me for a long time.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Lovely way to travel to such a beautiful and engaging place 27 novembre 2012
Par Deirdre O'Sullivan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Loved the characters and the insights into the history and artistry of the cathedral and the town. Missed Agnes and Fr Paul especially. Now that's a sign of good writing, isn't it?
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Rich and beautiful! 1 août 2013
Par E.F.B. Hall - Publié sur Amazon.com
I was sad to see this beautiful book end. The author weaves together a tale of the rich history and lore of Chartres and her labyrinth, along with the story of main-character, Agnes. You will celebrate the power of goodness over evil, and the resilience of the human spirit, and you will yearn to visit, or revisit, Chartres. I highly recommend this book!
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 As rich and elaborated as the facade of a Gothic cathedral 12 août 2013
Par Mina - Publié sur Amazon.com
Extended review available on Mina's Bookshelf
It took me a while to get into this story, but once I did, I found it quite interesting and enjoyable. Different, I would say. Elaborate like the facade of a Gothic cathedral, as rich and beautiful as a mosaic in a stained-glass window, The Cleaner of Chartres' opening chapters summoned my attention with an array of colorful characters, dual timeline, and poignant backstories that made a full and beautiful sense when the last piece of the puzzle was laid down in the form of a startling epiphany. The simultaneous introduction of multiple characters, as essential to the story as the central character itself, may initially confuse and distract the reader, but the inhabitants of Chartres will eventually cling to a corner of your heart with their moving humanity, quirkiness, and pitiful dramas. Salley Vickers' novel can better be described as a modern fairy tale, and a dark one at that. Of that form of storytelling, Vickers' novel features the typical plot structure, motifs, and dramatis personae. Written with the grace and sensitivity of an author who obviously has an understanding of human psychology (Vickers is a former university professor of literature and Jungian psychotherapy), this story lacks the 'fantasy' element (in its place the author introduced the 'mystical' and the 'divine') but it features all the archetypal figures populating a traditional folktale: the heroine/victim of an intrigue/spell (Agnès), a villain (Madame Beck), a donor/helper/rescuer (Jean Dupère, the farmer who found her wrapped in a tablecloth on a frigid winter night; Prof. Jones who teaches her how to read; Abbé Paul who exposes Madame Beck's evil scheme), the prince (Alain, the cathedral restorer who loves her for what she is), and the castle (the cathedral of Notre Dame). In the vein of a fairy tale, the resolution is rather heart-warming: hope prevails, order is restored, and the heroine elevates herself above misfortunes and adversities.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Cleaner of Chartres 23 décembre 2012
Par jennifer kallie - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Great story - was intrigued at how the vents of the woman's life unfolded and very sad when I'd finished
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