Virgin Blue
by Chevalier, Tracy

Weaves together the stories of two women in two different centuries-twentieth-century Ella, who dreams in blue when she moves to France, and sixteenth-century Isabelle, Ella's ancestor, who was persecuted as a suspected witch.

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I&;m still here.

"As a kid I&;d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing &;real&; stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I&;d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered &;big&; enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend&;s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he&;s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I&;ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

A rich and quirky Chinese puzzle of sorts: a family saga turns into a mystery, then is finally revealed as a domestic drama about a young American living in France who finds her own life intersecting with the history of her ancestors in palpable and uncanny ways.Chevalier's first novel (never before published here) is set in Lisle-sur-Tarn, a little French town that's a long way from California, both geographically and culturally. But when Ella Turner's husband Rick accepted a job in Toulouse, Ella chose picturesque and sleepy Lisle for their new home. It was an eerie choice, for it turns out that Ella's ancestors-the Tourniers-had lived in Lisle until the 16th century. Ella tries to settle into her new surroundings with good grace-studying French, introducing herself to the locals, socializing with Rick's colleagues-but she's soon at loose ends. To begin with, she starts to have a recurring dream-a wordless image of vivid blue-that leaves her increasingly troubled. She also develops a persistent case of eczema, which her doctor suggests may be brought on by stress. What sort of stress? And she finds herself unable to make friends in Lisle. Her only real confidant is Jean-Paul, the town librarian who helps her to research her family history. With his guidance, Ella pieces together the saga of the Tourniers, Protestant Huguenots who had to flee France during the religious wars of the late 16th century. Their story takes on a personal significance for Ella, who discovers a picture by one of her ancestors in the local museum, painted in exactly the same shade of blue that she sees in her dream. Chevalier (Girl With a Pearl Earring , 2000, etc.) contrasts Ella's investigations with chapters relating the adventures of ancestor Isabelle de Moulin Tournier, whose life parallels Ella's in many ways. Soon Ella realizes she's looking into her past out of something more than idle curiosity.A modest work of some skill, told with a minimum of melodrama and some good local color. Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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