The Glass Painter's Daughter, by Rachel Hore

>> Saturday, March 19, 2011

TITLE: The Glass Painter's Daughter
AUTHOR: Rachel Hore

PAGES: 450

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Romantic Fiction

Fran Morrison, a travelling musician, is summoned home to London after her father suffers a stroke and finds herself in charge of the family business, a stained glass workshop in an historic backwater of Westminster.

Minster Glass was founded in the Victorian heyday of stained glass making, and when the vicar of the local church asks Fran and her father's assistant Zac to restore a shattered angel window, her research into the window's origins amongst her father's papers uncovers a fascinating and moving love story from the Victorian past that resonates in her own life.

And as she makes a new life for herself in London she discovers that, if you know where to look, there are angels all around.
Fran Morrison is a free-lance professional musician. She travels the world, playing in different orchestras, a life she enjoys very much. She doesn't go back to London much -even though she grew up on her own with her father, the relationship between them has long been quite strained.

When her father has a stroke, though, Fran doesn't think of it twice and heads straight home. With her father still in hospital, she has a lot of time to spare, which she fills with helping run the family business, Minster Glass, a stained glass workshop that has a very long history. She also joins a local choir, rekindles her relationshiop with old friends, not to mention meets new ones, including the brilliant young choir director, who seems quite interested in her as well.

One of the projects Fran gets involved with is the restoration of a stained glass window at the church round the corner. This window was originally made at Minster Glass many years earlier, and was shattered during the war. Researching its history, Fran finds a diary written by Laura, the daughter of the vicar at the time the window was made. And so, as in the previous books I've read by this author, we get a story within a story, that of Laura and her relationship with the artist who created the window.

If you have read my reviews of other Rachel Hore books, there won't be much in this one that will surprise you. It's a quiet and pretty undramatic story, which is nonetheless quite readable. It's also got a great sense of place.

The latter was probably the best thing about the book. I absolutely loved the setting, in that bit of London behind Westminster Abbey. It's an area I often wander in whenever work takes me to London. I usually stay in a little hotel in Pimlico and my meetings tend to be in Whitehall, so if I have time, I'll walk and lose myself for a while in the little backstreets. Greycoat square might be imaginary (although there does seem to be a Greycoat place in that area, so maybe not completely?), but the rest of it comes to life beautifully. I think next time I'm there I'll be unconsciously looking for Minster Glass.

We also get quite a lot of information about stained glass windows - how they're designed, how they're made and lots more. I thought that was really interesting, and I wanted more.

The human drama playing out before this background was entertaining enough, too. Fran's a bit of an inscrutable character, and even though events are narrated from her point of view, I still found her character a bit diffuse by the end of the book. The main character is not as vivid as the setting, I'm afraid, but it wasn't too bad, really.

The conflict in the present day revolves around Fran coming to terms with her father and his legacy, as well as dealing with some romantic complications involving choir director Ben. It's not a very traditional romance Fran gets involved in, but it was one I found quite realistic, if it was supposed to portray a relationship which doesn't seem to be going anywhere, no matter how much the two people involved think they want it to. Ben is a flawed but interesting character. I was as confused about his character as Fran was. Is he supposed to be the hero, I wondered? Yes, he sounds quite attractive and sexy, but he also doesn't seem to be a very nice person. I've recently joined a non-professional, just for fun choir myself, and if our choir director behaved as Ben did, I don't think I'd be staying long! I liked Fran's attitude towards this, though. She's very attracted to Ben, but she's not oblivious to his faults, and they actually give her pause. Anyway, things in that department do turn out in the way I thought was best in the end.

In addition to Fran, there's Laura's story there, and that's where the book fell down for me. First of all, I just wasn't interested in her, even found her a bit boring. I just didn't really care what would happen between her and the man she loved. In fact, I read this a while ago, and I can't remember exactly how things turned out for her!

And also, there's the same problem as in other books I've read by this author. Fran's investigation into Laura's story is very undramatic. The stuff with the information she needs just turns up, without much effort. She looks for an image of the original angel window for a while, but when it turns up, it's just very blah. This sort of thing can be done so much better! It has been done much better... just read some of my favourite Barbara Michaels books and you'll see!

Not to mention, again, I didn't really get what the link was between the two stories. Were Laura's and Fran's lives supposed to mirror each other in some way? What was the relevance? I didn't really see anything there.



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