A JARFUL OF ANGELS is the story of 4 children living in a Welsh mining town in the 1960s and of a retired policeman’s last-ditch attempt, 40 years later, to get to the bottom of the unresolved disappearance of one of those children. It also cannot help but be a commentary on how things have changed in the passing years – for better but also in some respects for worse. Iffy, Billy, Bessie and Fatty come from very different families all of which have suffered tragedy and hardship. The children’s imaginations run wild as they overhear snippets of adult gossip, absorb local myths and find a way through the secrets that have already shaped their lives. There is a freedom and joy in one another that helps keep darker thoughts at bay and the kindness and loyalty with which they treat one another is very special.This is no idealised depiction of childhood though. Neglect, rape, alcoholism, religion, jealousy, heartbreak, suicide, deceit, shame, guilt and ultimately murder blight this remote town and the children are paying the price. So many of the choices the adult characters make are the consequence of the prevailing social attitudes of the time, around illegitimacy for example, but Babs Horton does not seem to pass judgement. However, the contrast with the children’s way of looking at things is palpable and we are certainly left with the powerful sense that long term peace and happiness rely heavily on honesty and on taking responsibility for your actions. My one criticism is that I am still not entirely sure what the angels in the jar are – so please let me know if you read this book and work it out.
Monthly Archives: July 2012
Sarah Waters is at her very best here ; weaving a complex plot around strong, predominantly women, characters, building suspense and menace that climaxes in a satisfying denouement. With more than a nod to Shakespeare and Dickens, she skilfully evokes time and place, as well as keeping the story moving along at a steady pace. Sue Trinder’s fate has been linked to that of Maud Lilley since they were born, despite one being raised by a criminal family in Lant Street, London, and the other by a wealthy uncle at his estate in Marlow. Their paths finally cross when ‘Gentleman’ makes an appearance in both their lives and triggers a plan that has been 18 years in the making. Nobody, though, has allowed for the relationship that develops between Maud and Sue – a relationship that is sorely tested as the young women learn the details of the treachery and manipulation in which they have, sometimes unwittingly, played a part. Sinister, twisted and at the same time incredibly tender, this is a glorious book and probably my favourite of her’s so far.
This reminded me a bit of LULLABY . It’s that same black humour, the same bleak American social and moral landscape, and the same satirical comment on the modern condition. Not one to read if you need cheering up or want something light. It’s a murder mystery and a story about things falling apart – the glories of the recent past, the fabric of a small town, the local newspaper, the main characters. The opening Ode to a Trainee Manager grabbed me quite powerfully, as did some elements of the story as it unfolded, especially the way that the main murder suspect is turned into a celebrity and how the women who use the town’s beauty parlour rally to protect one another. Similarly, the setting and the characterisation are superb. But overall THE KEEPERS OF THE TRUTH didn’t manage to hold my attention or capture my imagination in any way. I am mindful that I was reading it during a period of time that has been exceptionally busy, even by my standards, so it may deserve a reread in the future, but for now the only verdict I can give is: disappointing.