When I hear the words "historical romance", I feel like rushing to the loo and throwing up. I visualise noble lords and ladies parading on splendid horses, and surrounded by a collection of adoring servants : stable lads, coachmen, footmen, maids (including scullery maids), butlers and ladies in waiting.
The young heiress is haughty and insensitive but she will mellow towards the end. She can't marry the man she loves because he hasn't got enough loot but, (oh miracle !) it turns out that he is wealthy after all. What a relief ! All is well that ends well. Throughout this main story line, the lord of the manor foils a plot to ruin his family, the young lady's irresponsible brother is wounded in a duel and her favourite horse breaks a leg and must be put down. So sad !
As historical romances go, "The Mysteries of Glass" is light years away from (and ahead of) all this gook.
To start with, the main character is far from wealthy : he is a young curate. There is indeed a Lord of the Manor somewhere in the background. Though sensitive and generous, he is not seen as someone exceptional, far from it.
The curate falls in love with the vicar's wife and vice-versa. In parallel with the evolution of the love affair between those two, we follow the evolution of the curate's loss of faith. The year is 1861.
The enchantment starts with the first paragraph and never wanes. Each sentence is a delight : perfectly balanced and sensually evocative. Sue Gee, consciously or not, is following Gustave Flaubert's advice : use the five senses. Make the reader see, hear, smell, taste, touch and... dream.
If you are not a Christian, if you know very little about the C of E clergy, if you are a woman or if you can't remember what 1861 looked like (which includes all of us), it doesn't matter one bit : you live and vibrate through this young curate's head and body, you feel what he feels, you fall in love with him, you reflect with him, you grow and change with him.
One word kept running through my mind as I savoured this magnificent novel : perfection. We all know it doesn't exist, but coming so close can give you goose pimples.