Review: The Mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee

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.

8 thoughts on “Review: The Mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee

  1. jennygirl says:

    hmmm..not sure due to the religious items. I’m like you I don’t a wee bit but I don’t want to overpower a story either. Can’t say I will definitely look for this one, but if I see at the library, I may pick it up. Thanks for the review.

    • Helen says:

      If you don’t like too much religion in a book then I probably wouldn’t recommend this one. You might still enjoy it though – most people seem to have loved it!

  2. Mel says:

    Hi Helen

    I enjoyed reading your review of this novel. I have not read it. I find it very difficult to finish books that I don’t warm to, let alone write a balanced review about them afterwards. I imagine you have capatured the pros and cons of this one very well. It actually sounds really quite interesting, but the slow pace would have killed me too. I do like winter landscapes though; they seem so romantic. Spoken like a true Australian I know 🙂 Thanks for interesting review.

    • Helen says:

      I can usually find something positive about a book even if I didn’t really like it. I think I just wasn’t the right reader for this book. The blurb on the back cover made it sound very intriguing, so I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it much.

  3. Ash says:

    Ugh, something you mentioned is one of my biggest pet peeves: I hate it when I have to read a slower pace than normal because I’m skimming over the words and not absorbing anything. To me that just means I’m not that interested in the book no matter how much I want to read it.

    • Helen says:

      It annoys me too and I would usually just stop reading the book, but I’d seen so many good reviews of this one that I kept reading in the hope that it would get better.

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