Skip to main content

Some novels are less than what they appear, others are more so. Some can be read as entertainment only, while some can be read that way but have other things to say. Salley Vickers writes novels that are unassuming yet have wise observations about people and how they like to judge others. The Cleaner of Chartres is such a novel.

Agnes Morel is one of those quiet women who appear as if they are going through life trying to be undetected. She arrived one day in Chartres, no one remembers exactly when, and has made a meager living for herself cleaning and occasionally watching children.

One priest tries to turn Agnes into his confessor, not of crimes but of his crisis of faith. Two catty old women who employ Agnes use her in their game of oneupsmanship. A lonely professor turns his life around when Agnes begins to organize his messy office. A psychiatrist worries whether he helped Agnes or made her life worse. And a man involved in a cleaning project within the cathedral finds her fascinating.

Perhaps because she is quiet and makes no demands of her own, others either want her to listen to them or assign all sorts of activities to her. She is often regarded by others are a character not unlike that of Chauncey Gardner in Being There, in which others mistake simplicity for being profound. But in the case of this novel, there is no satire involved.

There is, however, past tragedy and that is used against Agnes when it becomes known. And that's when the narrative becomes really rather interesting. Vickers is good at not pointing out what the foibles of each character mean in terms of what kind a character each is. She also is good at slipping in some asides that showcase what's behind what some people do and what's behind their thinking.

In this exchange. Abbe Paul is speaking first while Agnes responds:

"...But since no one knows what it quite was there's no reason why you wouldn't be the one to uncover the mystery."

"Maybe it is better left uncovered."

The Abbe Paul looked at Agnes rather as Alain had, with respect. "How sensible. People are desperate to probe mysteries which for the most part are best left unprobed. It is the modern curse: this demented drive to explain every blessed thing. Not everything can be explained. Nor should be, I think."

"Some things should be, though." She was thinking of the riddle of her own birth.

"To be sure. I often wonder if happiness isn't knowing what should and what should not be explained."

"But how can we tell which is which?"

"Hmmm," said the Abbe Paul. "That, I suppose, is wisdom."

This exchange encapsulates what I like about Vickers's writing -- my initial reaction is to question what's wrong with trying to explain every blessed, and cursed, thing. At first, Vickers's plot seems to suggest that this dashing about trying to explain things, especially when not equipped with all the necessary information, can lead to trouble and hurt people.

But then something else happens, just when it looks like the entire plot is going to collapse upon itself as the smaller-minded characters ascend. As more characters find out what actually happened in the past and what recently happened, things don't just straighten themselves out. Situations improve for several characters.

The results are plausible but, depending on one's outlook about other human beings, either likely or barely possible. How one responds to fiction is largely a matter of what one brings to it, and responses could be viewed as a Rorschach Test of sorts. Reading a novel by Vickers, who is a Jungian psychotherapist, it's possible to take a step back from reading and reacting to see what one's own reaction might mean.

Or whether it's just an entertainment.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:






DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
alternate
Sundays
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
alternate
Sundays
2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
alternate
Sundays
4:00 PM Political Books Susan from 29
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
Fri 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Tue Dec 03, 2013 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site