|The Guardian, 1 September 2001
In her follow-up to Girl With a Pearl Earring, Chevalier invokes the two splendid Victorian obsessions of sex and death, except that now the Queen's protracted reign is finally over, and social and sexual mores are slowly beginning to change.
The Colemans and the Waterhouses are reluctant neighbours, yoked together by their daughters' friendship and by the prospect of their families' bodies lying together in adjacent graves. But the girls' penchant for visiting the cemetery to compare urns and angels brings new dangers, not least in the shape of Mrs Coleman's sexual liberation at the hands of the superintendent of graves, a fulfilment that leads her pell-mell into the hands of the Suffragettes.
Chevalier pursues narrative even-handedness by giving husbands, wives, children and servants their own voices and allowing them to overlap, accumulate and, ultimately, contradict one another. Although one feels her diligent researches haven't always led her to a perfect understanding of the Edwardian era - some of the writing veers uncomfortably towards pastiche - the progress of her characters out of Victorian reticence and into the relative permissiveness of the early 1900s is neatly handled.
Particularly enjoyable is the precocious pomposity of little Lavinia Waterhouse, who likes nothing better than to compile lists of mourning etiquette, and who yearns for the rectitude of yesteryear. And Chevalier does a good line in ghouls, with visits from the Coleman grandmother as much a treat for readers as it is a shuddering nightmare for her relatives.