All the Perverse Angels by Sarah Marr reviewed

All the Perverse Angels Book Cover All the Perverse Angels
Sarah Marr
February 22, 2018

Anna, an art curator, leaves a psychiatric hospital and finds herself in an English village, sharing a rented cottage with her partner. Seeking refuge from the aftermath of past infidelities, she constructs a personal reality from the brushstrokes and histories of her favourite artworks. A chance discovery in the cottage's attic leads Anna on a journey back to the late nineteenth century and the complicated relationships of two women studying at Oxford University. As Anna's investigations blend with the students' story, and the threads of her life intertwine with those of a century earlier, she finds a way to run ever farther from her pain. But the past is not all it seems, and Anna's escape routes are taken from her, one by one, until she must face the truth of her present. All the Perverse Angels is a breathtaking novel about the nature of loss and the confusion of love, about the stories we are told and the stories we tell ourselves.

Was it the title or was it the cover? Either way All the Perverse Angels by Sarah K Marr appealed to me. We start off with Anna and Emily in the Cotswolds. Anna is “recovering” from something, Emily is her partner and looking after her. I found the writing lovely however I confess to being a little confused at times. The story switches to Victorian times (mostly around 1887) and a very new Ladies College in Oxford. There is a painting that links the two threads and art is a very important part of this story.

The story then switches between Anna and Emily in current times and, mainly, Penelope and Diana in Oxford. While Anna is the star of the show the developing relationship between Penny and Diana is key to this story. In a sense this is a quest for knowledge and understanding of the painting that Anna finds and is maybe part of her recovery process. Other than the fact the her issue seems to be a mental one little is made directly of Anna’s problems. However they do manifest themselves.

I found myself completely engrossed in Anna as a character. I’m not well versed in “art” and I think people would get more out of this book if they were. However Anna is a very well crafted character. Flawed, alive, interested, puzzling and much more – great. I guess the other characters, while good enough, suffer by comparison. Even Penny (Penelope) ,who is probably the other key person, simply feels two dimensional by comparison to Anna.

The quality of the writing and creativity of All the Perverse Angels is very good indeed. There is a warmth of humanity here even in parts of the book where things look quite bleak. I would argue that the early part of the book feels rather slow and it did take me a little while to grasp the story properly. However the pace stepped up as the book went on and I became more involved. I’d give the caveat that it is very art orientated and that will not suit some people. There is more to this than simply the parts though. There is a wonderful dream like quality to the writing at times. It is all enveloping in a comfortable way too for me. I am very glad I read it even if I can’t say I loved it.

Note – I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review