Author Julie K. Rose immerses booklovers in the colorful word of medieval stained glass repair, with her lauded debut novel, The Pilgrim Glass. Set predominantly in Vézelay, France, the novel begins as Jonas Flycatcher receives a call from UNESCO, inviting him to restore a fragile image of the Magdalene in ancient Romanesque cathedral of Saint-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay. Three days later, Jonas arrives albeit without his luggage and restoration tools in a quaint village, once associated with medieval pilgrimages from ancient Burgundy to Compostela, Spain. It boasts a cathedral famed for its relics of Mary Magdalene. Jonas must restore the stained glass within a few short weeks, in time for the feast of the Magdalene.
Jonas meets the worldly Abbot Michel Dubay. The men initially clash over intrusive questions from Abbott Dubay and alterations of the original contract but Jonas soon begins his work. A comfortable partnership evolves between the two, as Abbott Dubay hints at an enigmatic past, including unclear reasons for choosing the priesthood instead of becoming an academic. Elsewhere, haunting words and images occupy the photographer Meredith’s mind, memories that cannot be her own. She seeks the comfort of friends like Marie-Laure, an expert on the region’s history. But Meredith cannot escape her visions or the pull of the cathedral. When she meets Jonas, they don’t immediately warm to each other, but eventually find common ground in their working interest in the cathedral. Their relationship surprisingly grows and changes, yet Meredith’s continuing hallucinations cause a strain on all the characters.
The central characters are memorable for their characterizations and the mysteries surrounding them. The author keeps you guessing about the sources of their pain and self-loathing throughout the novel. Why does Jonas, a renowned artisan keep everyone at bay and smother his innate brilliance in a haze of cigarette smoke? What should the reader make of Abbott Dubay’s constant reliance on the Confessions of St. Augustine, and the photograph he keeps tucked away between its pages? Why is Meredith tortured by otherworldly visions?
The setting is as realistic as the characters’ interactions, enhanced by Ms. Rose’s visit to the great cathedral at Vézelay. Scenes and descriptions pull the reader into the story, as it unfolds as though on a movie screen, rather than pages. This is an easy, enjoyable read. In particular, I admired the author’s references to pigments, vivid shades of red and blue that colors the world around Jonas.
A semifinalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, The Pilgrim Glass is an entertaining, surprisingly suspenseful read, and I highly recommend it to readers who love historical mysteries enhanced by authentic details. As I told Ms. Rose, she’s gained a fan and I look forward to her future work.
Please leave a comment to win a free, signed copy of The Pilgrim Glass, and thanks for visiting the blog.