Book Review: The Glass Painter’s Daughter

glass painters

The Glass Painter’s Daughter, by Rachel Hore, tells two interwoven stories set over a century apart. Each is written in a very different style. Much as I dislike the limitations imposed on a book by assigning it a genre, the modern section read like an easy romance, not the sort of tale I choose to read as I tend to find such books two dimensional. The historical section was more to my taste and I enjoyed it, but not enough to redeem the whole.

Set in the 1990’s, the modern section tells the story of Fran, a professional tuba player who is obliged to return home when her estranged father suffers a catastrophic stroke. We learn that Fran never knew her mother who died when she was young, and that she was raised by her father in a flat above Minster Glass, the stained glass shop which her family have owned and run for generations.

Fran’s father has a talented assistant at the shop, Zac. He is a quiet and reliable friend to Fran, especially after she is hurt by the self absorbed Ben, another musician she meets at choir. Along the way Zac and Fran help out Amber from the homeless hostel, a young girl who has had a tough start in life but who comes good when given the opportunity. Although their tale is nicely told I found the characters shallow.

Of interest was the author’s choice to set the story before mass use of internet and social media. She commented on this saying:

“Because of the gothic claustrophobia I wished to create I couldn’t have modern media”

It is easy to forget how these days it is easy to research people on line and to keep in touch, that this instant access is a recent phenomenon.

Zac, Fran and Amber are working to restore a stained glass window that has recently been discovered in a nearby church. The window, depicting an angel, provides the link to the historical element of the book. The protagonist of this section, Laura, is the daughter of the church vicar in the late nineteenth century. Laura’s family are mourning the loss of their son and daughter, Ned and Caroline. Another daughter is married and expecting her first child leaving Laura to support her grieving parents.

Laura also has love interests: Anthony Bond, the solid and upright churchwarden of whom her family approve; and Philip Russell, a man with an estranged wife who is commissioned to create two stained glass windows for the church on behalf of Minster Glass.

There are obvious parallels between the life experiences of Fran and Laura. There are also a great many angel references, something which other readers warmed to but which I found a little too much at times.

I was sent this book to review as a member of the Curtis Brown Book Group so had the privilege of asking the author about the variations in the way she wrote the two stories. My question was:

“Fran’s story seems to be written in quite a different style to Laura’s. I wondered if this was deliberate, if you were trying to tell the modern story in a modern style and the historical story in a period style?”

Rachel replied:

“It is deliberate, yes, and your explanation is bang on the nail! It just is a question of imagining the sensibilities of the characters in the different eras.”
I then asked:
“Some readers choose books because they like a certain type of writing. Were you at all concerned about mixing it up in this way?”
Rachel replied:
“It worked for me, Jackie, so I had to hope it did for the readers. I find that I can’t write while thinking about the readers because there are so many different reactions from people and it can be muddling. The place one is in psychologically while writing is a very secret one. It’s the editing process that draws in the editor (and the writer as self-editor) in the role of reader.”

I found this answer insightful. My reaction to the modern story may be critical, but only because of my personal preferences as a reader. From the discussion it was clear that others thoroughly enjoyed the author’s approach.

I believe I was put off this book early on when Laura peeked into her dead sister Caroline’s bedroom and noted the possessions still there, included a teddy bear. Caroline died in 1878 yet teddy bears became popular after 1902 following a bear hunting incident involving American president, Theodore Roosevelt. As an arctophile, this grated. Later in the story a window at Minster Glass is broken by vandals, and glaziers are called to mend it. I wondered why a shop trading in fancy windows could not replace a simple pane of glass themselves.

I considered too much detail was glossed over: failing to name other choirs at the time, referring to them simply as ‘well known’; the vicar’s lost glasses being found ‘in the obvious place’ which went unspecified. The homilies from the vicar as he gave well meaning advice seemed overly religious. I accept that he was a vicar so this was in character, but found it challenging to read.

I did enjoy the ending, which took us back to Laura’s story and worked well.

I guess I prefer my mysteries to be a little more subtle. I found this tale predictable with just the occasional unexpected event thrown in, rarely altering the outcome.

I like to read eclectically and this was not a typical book for me. Whilst I recognise that many others enjoy the genre, I will not be adding further romantic fiction to my TBR pile.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the Curtis Brown Book Group.

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