The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore tells the story of a young woman, called home to London from her international travels as a tuba player after her father falls ill. Her journey to reconciling her strained relationship with her father is supported by the journal of a woman a hundred years earlier, whose life reflects that of Fran, the protagonist.
I’m not really sure what genre to put this book into – popular fiction feels wrong, but it doesn’t slot into anything else except for possibly a romance, but then that doesn’t do it justice. It seems strange thinking of something set in 1998 as historical fiction, but then it also hits that genre through the use of Laura’s journal, which is based in the Victorian era. So it’s a bit of mish mash. The book was bought for me by my future mother-in-law, who when I stayed with them after spraining my ankle was given the impossible task of ‘choosing a book for me to read on the train’, since I didn’t have any reading with me! She did well in choosing something that isn’t quite in my usual genre but that I did enjoy.
Reading this I frequently asked myself why I was reading it… it was all well and good, but it was so normal, based around events that could happen to everyone and told in a very realistic manner. There wasn’t a sense of disbelief having to be held at any point, it all just felt very normal. Perhaps my love of fantasy is what is causing the problem here, but to me, fiction is only really worth reading if there is a sense of the unbelievable, or if I’m truly learning something from it, like with fiction based around war, or believable but tense… I don’t know, there was just something missing from this book that would have really drawn me in. There wasn’t really tension – even the small crimes that did take place were mellow and controlled, and the characters were well thought through but there wasn’t really anything interesting about them. The whole thing felt a little disappointing in that sense. I was able to leave the book sitting for days and felt no draw to read it… not sure I’m really making sense at all here, it was just lacking!
However, Hore is clearly passionate about her writing and the subject. The characters were well thought through and extremely realistic, complete with flaws and unreasonable behaviour that you could truly see someone enacting. The knowledge of creating stain glassed windows and the clear interest Hore had in this procedure came through, and the fact that I learned about the process without even really knowing that I was means that Hore not only did her research thoroughly but portrayed it organically throughout the novel.
Fran was a likeable enough protagonist with an interesting background. Her character developed throughout the novel very naturally, but this was tempered by her commenting on it herself (‘the past three months had changed everything’), which is something I always dislike because it makes the narrative too self conscious.
I enjoyed Laura’s narrative, and how Hore used the tool of the journal without making it boring, transforming Laura’s journal into a third person story instead. This made for an interesting parallel as the two very different women explored their feelings and dedication to their families. I feel like Hore rushed over some of the emotion Laura could have shared – she didn’t feel real, too martyr like and pragmatic in the face of a lot of tragedy, but she was the highlight of the story for me.
Overall the book was fine, there was just no spark about it that really made me passionate about finishing it, and then writing about it. Perhaps this is a reflection of my depression, that I rarely get excited about anything at the moment… but I wouldn’t seek Hore out again actively. Maybe we’ve finally found a genre (whatever it is!) that doesn’t really interest me…