I love Tracy Chevalier. As a lover of history, the way she winds together real (and sometimes obscure) facts and creates a story around it is just beautiful. I’ve finally accumulated all of her books through various discount shops and sales, and I’m so happy about it. Before this one, I had read 4 of her books, and I am so glad I finally got to this one on my list.
This book follows 2 women who are related. There is Isabelle who lived in the 1500s and Ella in near present day. Isabelle lives most of her life in France. She has a lover whom she marries once she falls pregnant. As religious tension comes to their town, Isabelle and her growing family must eventually leave for safe haven in what is now Switzerland.
The other parts of the story follow Ella who has just come to France with her husband for his work, and is working on laying down her own roots. For her that primarily means she wants to start a family. On the nights that she tries to conceive, she is haunted by a dream that she is drowning in the color blue. This disruption in her life causes her to seek out some information on her ancestors, and she discovers that they were from the same area. As she digs deeper she is forced to face a dark family secret, and some hard truths about herself as well.
This probably isn’t my favorite Tracy Chevalier book, but it was right up there. Her work is just on another level for me, it’s just the kind of literature that I love. The surface story was really intriguing, but she always presents deeper themes and paints a lovely picture of a certain time period.
My reading of this was a breeze. The second I picked this off the shelf I was smiling, because I got to read another story by Chevalier. I tried to savor reading it but I couldn’t help but get through it quickly. There is a mystery element to this one, and I just wanted answers! And when it happened, I actually shouted. The buildup to the reveal was masterfully done. I had a feeling one thing was going to happen, but as it was unfolding in front of me I couldn’t look away! I’ve been dabbling into more and more mystery/thrillers, but so far this was the biggest “WHAT?” moment I’ve ever read.
I don’t think that I necessarily had a favorite character in this one. Ella was relatable enough, I can understand how it feels to be so out of place and trying to do your best. I also liked how once her curiosity got the best of her, she wasn’t willing to let it go until she had answers.
Isabelle’s story was the one I was the most invested in. I just felt so awful for her, as she just had to submit to certain circumstances in her life. She couldn’t really help her red hair or how her life was with her in-laws. She tried to make the best of it, but it just seemed to get worse every time we ‘checked in’ on her story. I found the religious parts of Isabelle’s setting were an interesting layer. Calvinists were all about bringing the word of God to the people and separating themselves from the exclusivity of the Catholic church at the time. Because of this, the people mock and are even afraid of Isabelle’s red hair, because it is so close to images of the Virgin Mary. To make matters worse, she names her child Maria, raising suspicions further.
Although there were considerably more thematic elements to this book than others I’ve read lately, the one that I found most interesting was that of the blue dream. At the conclusion of the novel, you understand more of what the dream was of, but it served an interesting purpose as well. Since the dreams stopped when Ella had solved the family ‘mystery’, I think they were almost sent from Isabelle. There is no denying that something mystical was on Isabelle’s side. I think this dream not only set Ella on the path to find the mystery, but also served as a warning. The part that trouble Ella most about the dream is that it only seemed to occur after having unprotected sex with her husband with the intent to conceive. I almost think the dream was a way to warn Ella of the hazards of having children with a man that is wrong for you. Isabelle’s life is forever changed because of her pregnancy, and the consequences follow her throughout the story. Becoming a mother changes everything, but it is much harder without the right partner. I got the sense that the blue dream was a premonition or a warning not to become the victim, as Isabelle had to. And, as I finished the book – it seems the message was heard as Isabelle forges her own path going forward.
Now to my usual questions: Will I keep this book? Yes! Duh! Will I reread? Yes I’m sure I will at some point, but my list awaits. Who would I recommend this for? I think anyone who likes historical fiction or geneology would enjoy this one. Even though this isn’t a real who dunnit, I think if you enjoy some light mystery, this would be a nice twist on that.