It’s the winter of 1860. Following the death of his father, the young Richard Allen takes his first position as curate in an isolated Herefordshire parish. At first Richard is eager to do well in his new post – but then he falls in love and finds that his faith is put to the test.
The Mysteries of Glass was nominated for an Orange Prize back in 2005 and I can see why, because Sue Gee’s writing is beautiful. I have rarely read a book with such a strong sense of time and place. The book is set in an isolated village in 19th century England and the rural Victorian setting felt entirely believable.
The opening chapters perfectly evoked a winter atmosphere. Although I was reading this book in July, I could still picture the cold, wintry landscape, the snowy fields, the frozen paths leading to Richard Allen’s lonely house, the skating party on the lake. Later in the book, as time passed, I could feel the temperatures rise and the seasons change.
Unfortunately, I had one or two problems with this book. I found it very, very slow – I had to force myself to read at a slower pace than I normally would because I felt I was starting to skim over the words without really absorbing them. After the first few chapters, in which very little actually seemed to happen, I had to make a decision whether or not to continue reading. I was glad that I persevered with it, though. I don’t like abandoning books and this one was so well written and had such a haunting, dreamlike atmosphere that I really wanted to love it.
The characters were realistic and well-drawn, from Alice Birley, the crossing-keeper’s solemn little girl to Edith Clare, the mysterious woman who lives in the woods. However, I thought some of the characters who were potentially the most interesting were very underused, such as Richard’s strong, hot-tempered sister Verity.
Another problem I had was that the religious aspects of the book were a bit too much for me. Knowing that the story was about a curate, I was prepared for this to some extent but I wasn’t really expecting the church scenes to be quite so dominant. If you don’t like that type of thing, you should be aware that it forms a very large part of the book and that the central theme of the story is the portrayal of a man’s inner turmoil as he tries to reconcile his feelings and emotions with his faith and his belief in God.
If this book sounds as if it might interest you at all, then please do give it a try as I definitely seem to be in the minority! The Mysteries of Glass wasn’t a bad book by any means – it didn’t appeal to me but maybe it will appeal to you.