Book Club Reflection: The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier

31 May

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my rights to pick books for my book club. For this group, the last two books I’ve suggested, One Hundred Years of Solitude and now The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, have been flops in the group. The difference, this time, is that I really liked Chevalier’s book while the rest of the group hated it. I recognized a lot of the plot holes they pointed out, but I loved the writing and style enough to look past them. It seems not everyone could do that. I agreed that it was hard to remember the beginning by the time you got to the end. I missed that Isabelle’s maiden name, Moulin, was the name of the woman who owned the Bible. I also recognized it was too convenient that the archivist gave the Bible to Ella. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This book had a lot of information about religious tensions in Europe that many of us were not aware of. In the last paragraph, we thought Jacob was deciding to return to France, to go back to the Catholics because he disagreed with what he saw of the Calvins, which was not very accurate. His father, Etienne, practiced the old religion where human sacrifice could save a house. We suspected that one of Etienne’s brothers was under the hearth of the hold house and that his presence protected the Bible during the house ransacking. One of the few things that bothered us universally about the book was the inclusion of French passages with no translation. It seemed arrogant to assume every reader speaks French but since this book was first published in England, it’s less assuming but still annoying for an American reader.

There were some strong similarities between Isabelle and Ella though there were superficial. Both had problems with skin reactions, both were in bad marriages and had to give up their midwife careers and strangely, both lay naked in rivers. Both had men named Paul that they were attracted to. We felt that Isabelle might have run off with Paul at the end. For a while, we thought he was a figment of her imagination, but she traded messages with him through the Italian courier so he had to be real. The France they lived in was similar as well. Both found hostilities and were able to escape to Switzerland where things were calmer. However, for Isabelle, things were still rough though it was easier on her family.

As I said in my review, Ella’s relationship with Rick bothered me most. She treated him unfairly as she fell out of love. Some of our members didn’t like Rick as much as I did. They felt he was shallow, being afraid to touch her psoriasis and being concerned with his flowing hair. I thought he was confident enough that he didn’t care what others thought about his appearance.

Our impressions of Jean Paul changed through the book. He was a good listener when Rick wasn’t and he really cared about Ella’s project. He got sucked in even when he was trying to withdraw. We understood why he wanted to withdraw after hearing about his past relationship and it made him sympathetic.

Ella’s hair change was one of the strangest parts of the book to me. It was very unbelievable and for me, planted this book in the magical realism realm. We believed it more with Marie, whose hair seemed to be slowly changing.

Ella is very convinced that the baby she conceived is Rick’s. We thought she felt less guilt in carrying Rick’s baby than Jean Paul’s. Who know who the real father is, but she wanted it to be Rick. We wondered if he would stay involved in the child’s life. He’s moving to Germany and doesn’t seem to be around for the pregnancy. Does he want to be? I explained the situation to my husband and he said if I was pregnant and was going to leave him for a lover, he’d want me to be carrying the other man’s baby. He would not want to be involved. That was a fun thought exercise.

I’ve already read our next selection, Brooklyn, and I think it will be a fun discussion.

Until next time, write on.

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