The Cleaner of Chartres, by Salley Vickers

I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. 

The Cleaner of Chartres
Salley Vickers' The Cleaner of Chartres is a lovely, beautifully written book about a woman who's past follows her for more than twenty years. Agnès Morel had the deck stacked against since the day she was born. She was found in the woods near Évreux, France. The man who found her took her to the nuns at the local convent because that was supposed to be the right thing to do. The nuns weren't horrible. Well, all but one of them weren't horrible. The one who was convinced Agnès that she was intellectually impaired. Years later, Agnès makes a living in Chartres cleaning at the cathedral and peoples' homes, posing for a painter, and babysitting.

Vickers tells Agnès' story in two interwoven parts. She shows us Agnès' life now in one part, her past in the other part. Her current life is shadowed by what happened to her before. One of the women she cleans for, the town busybody, takes a dislike to her that grows into malice after a misunderstanding over a collectible. When the busybody finds out about Agnès' secrets from the past, the woman tries to ruin poor Agnès. Fortunately, Agnès is sweet and caring. She doesn't mind doing dirty jobs. She's quiet, but funny once you get to know her.

Piece by piece, Vickers reveals Agnès' sad story. She became pregnant at 15 and the nuns arranged for an adoption without her consent. Losing her child (and the circumstances of the child's conception) made her lose touch with reality for a while. She spends time in a psychiatric clinic for a few years. There's some suspicion that she might have attacked a nanny who was looking after a child that might have been Agnès'. That's the story the busybody starts to spread around. In spite of her good qualities, Agnès is a fearful person who doesn't like to make waves. Unfortunately, that makes her a convenient scapegoat.

I'll leave the ending a mystery now, mostly because I don't want to ruin it for other people. I loved the way Vickers wrapped things up, though. Either way, the ending of The Cleaner of Chartres might make you tear up a bit. I really enjoyed this book.

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