This is one novel that, in my estimation, did not live up to the hype.
Ella Turner is a recent California transplant, leaving behind Hollywood for the old world European charm of rural France. She and her husband have bought a small home, full of character and charm, in a small town in the French countryside near Toulouse. France however does not live up to Ella's expectations. The people are closed, suspicious, and incredibly difficult to get to know. Unable to breach their defenses, Ella immerses herself in researching her family's French ancestry.
Isabelle du Moulin grew up in the nearby mountains, 400 years prior, during the tumultous Protestant Reformation. A Catholic convert to the new faith, she is often treated with at best disdain for her midwifery knowledge and the red hair she shares in kind with the Virgin Mary. When a particularly violent attack on the Huegonots takes place, she is forced to flee with her husband and children to Switzerland. It is in her new home where her life takes an even darker and more desperate turn.
Chevalier weaves Isabelle's past throughout Ella's present, alternating their personal histories, while unraveling a centuries old crime. While her storytelling was done skillfully, I was not drawn into this novel as I would have expected. I didn't particularly care for Ella. I could not sympathize with her, and many of the choices she made came across as those of a spoiled and bored child, not a married woman embarking on starting a new family. Isabelle's story, while far more intriguing, concluded in a manner that was so incredibly distasteful to me that I had a hard time convincing myself to read the rest of the book.
I really wanted to like this book. I have heard such good things about it, and I truly enjoyed the only other novel of Chevalier's that I have read, Falling Angels
, so I expected that I would feel similarly about The Virgin Blue
. However the combination of an unlikeable protagonist and the heartrending conclusion of Isabelle's story conspired to make that impossible. In addition, this is the second time I have had to read a about a particularly objectionable event in one of her books, leaves me strongly reconsidering reading anything else by this author, despite having previously included other of her novels on my list of future reads.