An incandescent debut, and bestseller in Britain, luminously details transforming encounters that change a lonely spinster's life when she decides to live in Venice.
Julia Garnet, a retired teacher who has never been in love, seems to belong to that group of disappointed women trapped in the bleak lives that Anita Brookner's readers know so well. But Miss Garnet, soon Julia to everyone she meets, is more robust and adventurous. And she's not exactly conventionally middle-class either: she's a communist and an atheist who disapproves of wealth, religion, and sensual beauty. But much changes when Harriet, the teacher she's lived with in London, dies and Julia decides to go to Venice for six months. There, as she steps off her water taxi at the Campo Angelo Raffael to move into the apartment she's rented, she notices, high up on the Campo's church, statues of an angel, a boy, and a dog. She soon learns that they represent the story from the Apocrypha of Tobias and the Angel Raphael, who exorcised the demons from Tobias's wife Sara (the ancient story is told in sections paralleling the changes in Julia's life). Formerly shy and reserved, Julia now makes friends with her landlady and her son Nicco; an American couple; a charismatic monsignor; and the handsome Carlo, an art historian with whom she falls in love. As she explores Venice, she meets the mysterious twins Toby and Sara, who are restoring a 14th-century chapel where they've found a painting of the Angel Raphael. When both it and Toby disappear, Julia, though by now disappointed in love, rallies to find the painting, help Sara, and live to the full in the city that has taught her how "to learn and enjoy."
A rich, moving, and satisfying tale of a woman engaged at last with the great mysteries of love and life. Beautifully wrought and impressively wise.