Miss Garnet's Angel
1. 'Miss Garnet's Angel' novel
has been described as a book that defies any neat categorisation.
So what kind of a novel is this? A romance? A mystery?
A tale of religious awakening? What is the effect of
the mutilayered strands?
2. "Can't be doing with
that," Miss Garnet tells herself upon first seeing
the Bellini picture of the Virgin and Christ child above
her bed. With this moment her atheist-communist wariness
is established but it also foreshadows the spiritual
and emotional transformations to come. Consider the
change Julia Garnet undergoes over the course of her
stay in Venice. What effects do the events and discoveries
of her visit have on her sense of self, as a communist
grounded in atheism and as a woman?
3. "Long ago she had decided
that history does not repeat itself; but perhaps when
a thing was true it went on returning in different likenesses,
borrowing from what went before, finding new ways to
declare itself." The idea of recurrence, that the
present is often a reflection - albeit a reinterpretation
- of the past, is an important theme in "Miss Garnet".
Consider the parallels between the narrative of Tobit
and that of Julia, Toby and Sarah. Do they comment on
and amplify each other?
4. Consider the way the novel
establishes dual meanings for "blindness":
as a physical condition on one hand, and as a more abstract
reference to the capacity for empathy, love, or self-awareness
on the other. What kinds of blindnesses does the narrative
5. With the opening lines of
the novel, we are introduced to a character who comes
to haunt all that follows: Death. "It leaves a
hole in the fabric of things which those who are left
behind try to repair." Tobias invokes death as
a metaphor for sexual penetration; Harriet comes to
"life" as the novel unfolds and awaits Julia
at the end of the book. Consider the relationship between
death and life in the novel. What might the author be
trying to show us here?
6. "We cannot commission
desire," Julia reflects, referring not only to
herself but also to Carlo. How does her disappointment
over Carlo, and her subsequent break down, enlarge her
vision? Does this link with her ability finally to see,
when others can't, the Archangel Raphael?
7 The Monsignore appears quite
late in the book and is the only other character in
the contemporary story who has seen Raphael. What is
the Monsignor's role? Are there any clues or hints to
his differences from the other human characters? Although,
for much of their lives, they've held starkly different
philosophical ideologies, what fundamental values are
he and Julia Garnet shown to share?
8. What is the role in the story
of the bridge by the Chiesa Angelo Raffaele at the edge
of the campo? Are there any links between the scenes
where it appears.
9. Near the end of the novel,
Julia encounters a young woman on a train named Saskia.
As they talk, Julia experiences "the strangest
sensation." And later, Julia reflects that "the
meeting had crystallised something for her." What
has happened here? Is it significant that she has just
come from a wedding?
10. The Carpaccio painting on
the cover of 'Miss Garnet' was John Ruskin's favourite.
Salley Vickers has also chosen a quote from Ruskin (who
wrote 'The Stones of Venice') for the epigraph at the
beginning of the novel. How are Ruskin's words reflected
in the book's presentation, structure and style? Does
this have any bearing on the ambiguity of the closing
scenes of the book? How do the ancient and modern stories
finally flow together and what does this tell us about
the novel's view of "endings"?