Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs at http://www.authortranslatorolga.com
Olga has been reading Spirit Of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat
Thanks to Rosie Amber for organising Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for offering me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.
I had recently read and reviewed Liza Perrat’s fabulous book The Silent Kookaburra (check the review here) and could not pass on the opportunity to read and review another of the author’s books. I had commented on my previous review that the author is well-known for her historical fiction novels and I felt The Silent Kookaburra, although set at a much closer point in time (the 1970s in Australia) also shared the detailed setting, the atmosphere and the background events that made it worthy of that category, together with a very disturbing and beautifully written story.
Spirit of Lost Angels falls neatly into the category of historical fiction. Set in France, a few years before the French revolution, it follows the life of Victoire Charpentier, a young girl born on a farm in a small village, whose mother is a wise woman, midwife and healer to all, and who experiences death and tragedy from a very early age. She is a direct victim of the unfairness of the society of the time (a nobleman’s coach runs her father over and doesn’t even stop) and it is not surprising she wants revenge. Tragedy and disaster pile up in her life and brief moments of happiness are cut short when something else happens. Her story fits also into the category of melodrama, as she always finds herself at the centre of everything, and survives against incredible odds. Her life demonstrates that a woman’s lot is (and was even more so at the time) hard. Losing your husband, children, being raped, accused of being a witch, and being denied a voice, are everyday affairs. One thing that helps Victoire above everything is her literacy. Her reading and writing skills help her keep in touch with loved ones, provide her later with a literary career and with the means to raise consciousness as to the plight of women and the poor, and allow her to meet people and make connections. Eventually, it also helps her fulfil her dream and have a happy ending. The focus on women’s issues and the importance of education are one of the strongest points of the novel for me.
The book is beautifully written, narrated in the first person by the protagonist, who presents as very articulate. As we learn later, she becomes very proficient at writing, although early on there are moments when the beauty of her writing jarred me a bit (when she writes a letter to her daughter Ruby, she’s trying to improve her writing, but her letter is not only deeply felt but also lyrically written in spite of that), although later events and the ending facilitate a different reading of the novel. The beautiful language and the detailed and, at times, poetic descriptions help readers feel transported to the France of the period and experience the smells (and stinks), the touch, the sensations of the different settings (including the horrifying experiences at La Salpêtrière). The historical figures and events of the time (Victoire meets Thomas Jefferson, corresponds with Mary Wollstonecraft and becomes friendly with Jeanne de Valois, who plays an important role in her life) add to the texture and background of the book, making the France of the late XVIIIc even more vivid. The author explains in an endnote that her main character is entirely fictional and all her interactions with historical figures are invented too, although inspired by the real characters.
I enjoyed, in particular, the reflections of the character about the role of women in the society of the time, her terrifying but enlightening period at La Salpêtrière, and her enterprising and determination. This is a novel full of action, where events follow each other quickly and the protagonist suffers more than anyone’s fair share of events, to the point where a degree of suspension of disbelief is required. Perhaps because we follow the character through a long period of time, and Victoire is very much a conduit to reflect historical events and the lot of women at that particular historical period, I did not feel her character was as consistent or psychologically well-drawn as was the case for Tanya in The Silent Kookaburra (where although we see the protagonist at two different ages, most of the story is told from the point of view of 11 y.o. Tanya). That notwithstanding, this is a great story, full of twist and turns, that will transport you to an extremely momentous time and place, and although it is the author’s first novel, it already shows her flair for language and for creating gripping stories.
Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her impoverished peasant roots.
Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the 18th century old regime.
Imprisoned in France’s most pitiless madhouse, La Salpêtrière asylum, the desperate Victoire begins a romance with fellow prisoner Jeanne de Valois, infamous conwoman of the diamond necklace affair. With the help of the ruthless and charismatic countess, Victoire carves out a new life for herself.
Enmeshed in the fever of pre-revolutionary France, Victoire must find the strength to join the revolutionary force storming the Bastille. Is she brave enough to help overthrow the diabolical aristocracy?
As this historical fiction adventure traces Victoire’s journey, it follows too, the journey of an angel talisman through generations of the Charpentier family.
Amidst the intrigue and drama of the French revolution, the women of Spirit of Lost Angels face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse.
About the author
Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Since completing a creative writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine, France Today and The Good Life France.
Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the French historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII Nazi Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.
Friends, Family and Other Strangers is a collection of humorous, horrific and entertaining short stories set in Australia.
Liza is a founding member of the Author Collective, Triskele Books and regularly reviews books for Bookmuse.