REVIEW by Steve Cooke
Man of Glass and Life of Glass by Andrea Sarginson
Author Andrea Sarginson tells me that ‘I began to write seriously as a member of Rochdale’s Touchstones Creative Writing Group.’
Her first book was Man of Glass and the second Life of Glass, which is a stand-alone follow-on.
Not only do the books make a cracking family read – they are also of great interest to fans of historical fiction and art-lovers alike.
They are set in the 1300s at the time of the Black Death. The first book covers a year in the life of a stained-glass apprentice and the second, the remainder of his life. They historically cover the effects of the medieval pandemic on his life and society in general.
In Man of Glass, she explores what might happen if modern medicine fails, how uncontrolled disease can cause society to fall apart, illustrates historical aspects of the plague, its impact on the art form of stained glass and vividly explores medieval life and medicine alongside hope and strength in adversity.
As rumours of a terrible plague reach gifted young glazing apprentice Amalric’s town, he dreads its arrival and despairs of the Church’s response and his village’s rampant superstition – but even he cannot deny the ominous portents that seem to abound. When the gruesome pestilence at last comes to Warren Horesby and neighbouring Meaux Abbey, Amalric and his family are blamed. Exposed to brutal recrimination, he is horribly injured in a vicious assault. Suddenly his survival depends on the care of a shy servant girl and the improbable support of the village priest and a newly qualified doctor of physic with pioneering ideas.
Can the village ever come to terms with the ravages of the plague? Can Amalric still hope to honour his family and fulfil his talent? And could there ever be hope for love?
Andrea Sarginson says, ‘I feel that I have written about what might have been. After all, who knows about the life of someone buried so long ago in a village church graveyard when records were seldom kept: who made the stained-glass windows of the fourteenth century; how the ordinary person with only the basic traditional healing methods reacted to the symptoms of the devastating pestilence; what it was like to be a doctor unable to help?’
In Life of Glass Andrea asks, Can a pandemic colour our view of God?
Amalric and Edwin Faceby were still young men, ambitious to make their marks on the world, when the Great Plague of 1349 receded. But when recurring outbreaks brought further loss and unleashed social unrest, the brothers were driven apart, and master glazier Amalric was compelled to find a new and revolutionary vision for his craft.
Now an old man, Amalric has a final journey to make. Surrounded by his family, his life’s labour has been in vain, revisiting the tumultuous past and crossing paths with his brother once more with shattering results.
The terrible plagues of the Middle Ages influenced the people t left behind – and even their understanding of God, reflected in churches’ stained-glass windows – one of the primary mediums for teaching at that time.
Through the experiences of Amalric Faceby, a young master glazier with ambitious dreams for the future, whom we met in her first novel Man of Glass, we see how the consequences and humankind. But when he seeks to express these changes through his work, will – and should – they be accepted? profound insights to the period. As she describes the protagonist’s masterful artistry, she brings alive the vibrant designs and the theological influences and personal events that difficulties brought on by the recurring pestilence, and in Amalric’s brother we are presented with a very different way of responding to such challenging times, inviting us to question where we should put our faith.
Andrea comments, ‘I find history at its most powerful when, through literature, we experience it on a day-to-day basis through our protagonist’s eyes. But I could never have imagined when I started to write about an historical pandemic, the Black Death, that we were about to live through one ourselves, with all its fear of the unknown, its horrors for some, the controversies over how to deal with it, the wariness of others and the love that was also revealed. This second novel deals with the aftermath of the medieval plague just as we are now dealing with the aftermath of Covid.’
Andrea lives in Greater Manchester and since 2012 has been an Authorised Lay Minister in the Manchester Diocese. She first trained as a nurse, midwife, and operating theatre nurse teacher, and later as an art historian with interests in Christian art and stained glass. She approached retirement combining both art and medicine as an associate of the Arts for Health Department at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Life of Glass (ISBN: 9781912726691) is published by Instant Apostle and is available now from bookshops and online retailers. Fiction, paperback, 304pp, £10.99.