January 1901, the day after Queen Victoria's death: Two families visit neighbouring graves in a fashionable London cemetery. One is decorated with a sentimental angel, the other an elaborate urn. Separated by social class as well as taste, the Waterhouses cling to tradition while the Colemans look ahead to a more modern society. The families are inextricably linked when their two girls meet behind the tombstones and become friends - and worse become involved with the gravedigger's impetuous son.
As the girls grow up and the new century begins, as cars replace horses and electricity outshines gas lighting, the nation emergres from the shadows of oppressive Victorian values to a golden Edwardian summer. It is then that the beautiful frustrated Mrs Coleman makes a bid for greater personal freedom, with disastrous consequences, and the lives of the Colemans and the Waterhouses are changed forever.
The only other Tracy Chevalier book I have read was Girl with a Pearl Earring, which I absolutely loved! When I read that one I picked it up with the intention of just reading the first couple of pages. Two and a half hours later, I had finished it and was blown away. This book never really grabbed my attention in the same way, although it was an entertaining enough read.
On her website, Chevalier talks about wanting to write a book about the mourning etiquette and social restrictions in place in Victorian England, and the changes in society that started to take place during the reign of Edward VII, and whilst it is that, for me, it was also about the way that secrets can destroy families and relationships.
When the two young girls meet behind the headstones of their family gravestones, they are instant best friends. They also become instant friends with Simon, the gravedigger's son, a young boy who they would never have met during their normal day to day life as he is very definitely a working class boy.
The two girls don't see each other again until the Waterhouses move into the house behind the Colemans and they are reunited. Throughout their childhood they spend a lot of their time playing at the cemetery, firstly being accompanied by Jenny, the Colemans maid, and then later by Maude's mother, Mrs Coleman. Both Jenny and Mrs Coleman visit the cemetery for their own reasons, and have their own consequences, but for the Colemans those consequences are far reaching, when Mrs Coleman becomes ill.
As Mrs Coleman finally recovers from her malaise, she becomes heavily involved in the suffragette meeting following a chance meeting with a suffragette at the opening of the local library. Her husband has no idea who involved until she is arrested and ends up spending time in jail. Whilst this would be hard for a young girl to deal with, Maude has actually been coming second to the cause for quite some time, so whilst it is difficult it is not impossible for her to cope.
Once Mrs Coleman is released from jail, she throws herself into the cause almost with abandon, and with her focus on the cause there are tragic consequences for both families.
As a commentary on some of the major changes that started to happen in the 10 years between the death of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII this was very interesting. Some of the changes included the introduction of electricity to homes, the replacement of horses with cars, and of course the suffragette movement.
Overall, an entertaining enough read, although not as good as Girl with a Pearl Earring. I do plan to read her other books before her new book comes out early next year.