Chevalier's first novel, written long before the bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring, is an intriguing contemporary/ historical/mystery/romance hinging on dreams, past lives and a painting of a red-haired virgin dressed in blue. When Ella Turner's architect husband is transferred to a small French village, she plans to work as a midwife and research her family's history. But her life comes loose at the ends when she begins to dream of medieval scenes involving a blue dress.

With the help of the local librarian, Jean-Paul, Ella searches for a connection between her dreams and her family's ties to the village. She uncovers a story that goes back to the 1600s about the lives of Isabelle, the local midwife, and her husband, Etienne, who belonged to a Calvinist sect dedicated to overthrowing the local Catholic cult of the virgin. Isabelle's resemblance to a painting of the red-haired virgin makes her a target of the Calvinists, who accuse her of witchcraft.

As Ella delves deeper into Isabelle's story, she's stunned by the similarities between herself and her ancestor, and the reader is pulled back and forth between the two women's parallel lives, wondering what will happen next.

Readers who adored Girl with a Pearl Earring should not expect the same fluid prose or seamless storytelling from Chevalier's first novel. However, readers will be caught up in the mystery surrounding Isabelle and the thread that binds the past and present (ˆ la A.S. Byatt's Possession). A worthwhile read that marks the emergence of this talented writer. (Jun., 300 pp., $14.00)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin