Agnes Morel was a foundling, raised in a convent until she became pregnant and had her son adopted away against her will. After being accused of attacking a woman whom she believed had taken her baby, she was placed in a mental home for some years. Now, 20 or so years later, she lives in Chartres. She is a cleaner at the cathedral and does housecleaning for several townspeople.
Though Agnes is described as beautiful and is a diligent worker, I found it hard to get a feel for who she really is. She is passive to the point that I wanted to tell her to get some backbone. People can be horribly unfair to her and she does nothing to resist.
I finally decided that although Agnes is the central character, that doesn't necessarily mean the book is about her. She is a figure whose passivity allows the true souls of the other characters to reveal themselves. Some characters' souls are revealed as being rotten and shriveled, others' are pure and loving.
Looking at the book this way did help me appreciate it more, but not enough. It still bothered me that Agnes was so passive, because I just found her uninteresting. When two other characters fall in love with her, it seemed inexplicable. A romance suddenly pops up, but it seemed half-hearted––and as if the wrong man was involved.
The setup for this book seemed like something Joanne Harris might write, but she would have added a lot more life to the story.