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Susie Vereker

The Mysteries of Glass. While I admired the way the writer brought the wintry Victorian Herefordshire countryside to life with vivid, specific detail, as Cornflower said, for me the first part of this rather static novel lacked narrative drive. Almost nothing happened for 200 pages, though admittedly events became gripping enough after that. I didn’t much sympathise with the main protagonist, a wet and helpless young curate, who ruined the young married woman he loved by writing about her in his diary which one knew would be discovered. If he had been less selfish and truly honourable, he would have left his post the moment he fell in love instead of palely loitering about (though that would have spoilt the story!) I guess the author wanted to write about forbidden love, to demonstrate it can happen to the most pure in heart, and, of course, about C19 hypocrisy. This she did most successfully and indeed poetically, and that must be why this book was nominated for the Orange Prize. Despite my reservations, the misty atmosphere of the novel is with me still.

adele geras

I'm more with Susie than with Cornflower on this, I have to say. I started it with great hopes. I loved 19th century country setting and am all in favour of conflicted and tormented clergy of any kind but this was extremely slow to get going and there's only so much lyrical loveliness you can take before you start asking for THINGS TO HAPPEN. I thought it was quite predictable and I did want to kick a lot of the protagonists a lot of the time. I have also found, rather to my surprise, that what Susie calls the 'misty atmosphere' of the novel has completely left me, so much so that I have now to remind myself of things! I found it dismayingly forgettable and nothing like as good as her other books, esp Reading in Bed and the super one whose name escapes me about a woman poet living on the Welsh border.
Also, surprisingly, I found it far too 'churchy' which is odd because generally speaking I love things set in church communities of any kind.
Six out of ten, I reckon. My hard back edition has a quote from me on the front saying; Sue Gee writes beautifully. That's true but in this case is not quite enough


I so enjoyed this book, even though as others had said nothing much happened for the first 200 pages. For me these pages set the scene - from the cold winters start through to the lazy bee buzzing days of summer. The idyllic almost dreamlike village and church scenes vs. the reality and the hypocrisy surrounding everyday life. Such was the mastery of words I was transported instantly in to the scene, the sights, the sounds, the feel of the cold winters air, the hot lazy days of summer and even the terrible smells from the sick bed.
True, from the start it was a predicible forbidden love story, but it was told in such a way that for me anyway it felt new, like I had never read such a story before. The light and the dark contrasts were many - from the shifty, darker skinned greased back hair character, whose arrival I just knew would seal Richards fate - to Edith Clare the hermit in the woods in whom Richard thought he had an ally - but shunned him in his hour of need.
Thank you choosing this book and introducing me to Sue Gee. Although her books are unavailable in the US I ordered Reading in Bed at the same time, and after this one - I think it too is going to be a cracker. Looking forward to it.


I am going to be brave and speak up here. I only read to page 156 and was not able to read on any farther. I did peek at the ending, though.

I found it very slow going, particularly 'churchy' (love that word) as Adele wrote, and very long on setting and short on storyline. I am very much a city girl, and the outdoor descriptions were a bit too lengthy for me. What little I learned about the characters did not persuade me to care for them terribly much.

I do think Gee is a good writer, but I needed less atmosphere and more action. Most (all?) of the amazon reviews are very good, so I realize that my opinion is unpopular.

I am glad that you chose this book Karen, because it was gathering dust on my shelves and you prompted me to read it.


I'll have to jump in and offer some moral support, Karen, because I absolutely loved it - and I'd never have discovered it for myself because I'd have totally dismissed it on grounds of hating the cover! But prayermint baffled me, too ...


I loved the cover, but found myself having to read on, instead of wanting to. There was something missing which I can't quite put my finger on, I think the word 'churchy' is good, somehow there is a lack of depth there. Not enough substance.
I do love Sue Gee's writing, and have enjoyed her other books a lot. Will go and re-read her others now.


I began to read this book quite a while ago, and couldn't finish it; while I thought the imagery, especially at the beginning, was beautiful, for me the characters were too neatly disposed between the good but foolish, the bad, and the dying. On re-reading it to the finish, I didn't change my opinion, it was just too predictable, and none of the characters appealed to me, even making allowances for the period it is set in. I have since read Sue Gee's Reading in Bed, and liked it very much - but then I like Joanna Trollope's Aga Sagas! I hope I don't sound too disagreeable!!

Barbara MacLeod

I had high hopes from the title which intrigued me and from the cover blurb "profound and lyrical". Basically, it is a historical romance which I read to completion and can recommend as a period piece.

To me it has a poor start: [1] As soon as I came across (in the opening lines) "the engine's wraith of steam rose..." followed a couple of lines later by "the wraiths of steam became ... clouds" my antenna started twitching. Oh dear.... Lyrical writing? [2] References to the cold were never just here and there but layer upon layer. [3] Similarly, it started out in December 1860 and is overloaded with references to events, e.g. coming of the railroad, Darwin's new ideas, Origin of the Species [I have shortened the original title] was first published in November 24, 1859. Is there such a thing as too much paint on the canvas? (I am not a writer.)

However, once Richard paid a visit to the cottage in the woods and sourced the puzzle of the shadowy figure I was pulled in. Sitting on the train reading the book at this point I have to confess that [blush] after all of my irritation at the beginning I looked up to find I'd gone past my stop!

I was still looking for 'profundity: maybe Hardyesque characters? Edith Clare in the cottage "The church put me in prison" - never developed much. Mmmmm, any relation to Angel Clare (son of a clergyman) from Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

The title: I couldn't figure it out and therefore it proved a disappointment (but I liked the cover). The making of glass is a little understoond area of science. As a material it is an enigma. Theories abound. Molecular order vs randomness. Or maybe it is to do with transparency and opacity?


I wondered about the title too - I couldn't quite connect it fully to the story somehow. But the winter skating scene on the cover (no doubt at the Southwoods) was very intriguing and had a mystical feeling to it.
Now that Elizabeth has fessed up - I will come clean and admit to enjoying the Trollope Aga Saga's too (especially the early ones). This book certainly put me in mind of them - but in a more scholarly way.

Mr Cornflower

I did enjoy the book; what came across particularly well,as Cornflower has said, is the almost physical texture of the setting. Having lived in a remote rural community in south-west England it struck me as a very plausible portrait of what such Victorian lives could be. But there were curious flaws - the plot devices at times had an almost pantomimic obviousness, I felt on occasion like shouting "Look behind you!" And I found that after a pretty leisurely build-up the crisis following Richard's exposure was dealt with remarkably briefly - the author's choice or some heavy-handed editorial pruning?
I think Susie Vereker's point about Richard Allen is well made -had he been as good a man as he wished to be, he would have walked away from the precipice - but I dare say that weak and imperfect people make better fiction.

adele geras

May I jump back into this comments box again to say: THE RECTOR'S WIFE and THE CHOIR by Joanna Trollope are precisely the kind of clerical books that I love. I just wish that Mysteries of Glass were much more like those two: never a dull moment, as I recall.

Barbara MacLeod

I've been trying to find out about prayermint. Not knowing the context, I wondered, in the first instance, if it relates to pan-drops, those round white mint flavoured sweets that are well-known in Scotland for survival through long sermons. (An Aberdonian will tell you that the best sermon length is "2 pan drops sookit and not cruched at the end!")


I read this book while on holiday in the baking sunshine, so the authors' ability to conjure the atmosphere and sparseness of a victorian winter was even more apparent. I thought the book was tremendously evocative had a wonderful sense of place, but for me they were the best things about it. The story failed to draw me in and was, I felt, lacking in depth.

Kathryn Peach

I have reluctantly closed on the last page of "Earth and Heaven" - again. This story stands up to several readings, especially for readers who like a historical connection with the art world of between-the-wars. Sue Gee maintains a poignant, steady pace, a controlled delicacy of tone, layers of lyrical description and refinement of 'a sense of place', yet all is tightly managed. Post-WW1 London contrasts with the rural changes of Kentish countryside. Don't expect the obvious, there are no smart exchanges of dialogue, of hearty conversational skills and little plots of no consequence along the way. Sue Gee deals with the recognitions of feelings with powerful skill. Well researched, an unaffected style of prose, beautifully drawn vignettes. This story is an enchanting place to go to, and thank goodness without stereotypes, cliches and hackneyed, over-used
phrases. If you like Sue Gee, this is certainly one of her best.


I so agree, Kathryn.

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Please note

  • Sidebar book cover thumbnail pictures are affiliate links to Amazon, and the storefront links to Blackwell's and The Book Depository are also affiliated; should you purchase a book directly through those links, I will receive a small commission. Older posts may also contain affiliate links to one of those bookshops. I am not paid to produce content and all opinions are my own.


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