Thursday, July 15, 2004

Holy Fools ~ Joanne Harris

Wherein The Humble Blogger Once Again Puts Too Much Thought Into Cheap Entertainment

(here there be spoilers)

Like I said earlier, I broke down and bought this at DeCitre bookstore because I was starved for English reading material. It goes without saying I felt guilty about it, but I figured it was a good compromise since it's set in 17th century France. It's a clever gothic potboiler, full of murder, intrigue, witchcraft, possession, visions, and revenge. Great fun, but the love story doesn't make any sense. It works perfectly until the very, very end; I was just completely flabbergasted by the epilogue. The plot revolves around Juliette, former rope dancer and current nun at the abbey of St. Marie-de-la-Mer, and her ex-lover and father of her child, Guy LeMerle, the Blackbird, sometime theatrical producer and all-around con artist. LeMerle is clearly the villain of the book (well, along with the Catholic Church; cover your ears, all you decent god-fearing folk)--he's charming, intelligent, handsome, and thoroughly cold and heartless. And Juliette knows that he's a selfish, arrogant bastard without a conscience. I can see why she saves him, in the end, but I have no idea why she would want to enter into a relationship with him again. The rogue reformed by the love of a good woman, I suppose is the idea. I believe that some people can be redeemed, but LeMerle is not one of them. It's supposed to be romantic, I guess, but the more I think about it the more it bothers me. Juliette builds a perfectly good, independent life for herself and her daughter, but decides she really does love a man who deliberately manipulates a young girl into a suicidal religious frenzy and attempted to burn down a church full of innocent people in order to exact some petty personal revenge. Oh, how I swoon. The moral of the story here girls is if you just put up with his shit long enough, he'll change! You'll live happily ever after, because he miraculously decided for no apparent reason to stop being a shithead!
As for Juliette, she's a bit too perfect, which I don't mind; we need some perfect heroines to balance out the simpering doormats that populate most of anglophone literature (Charles Dickens, I'm looking at you). Not to mention the Evil Harpies and Castrating Bitches. I like Juliette, for the most part. It was all very familiar, the language of Harris' priests and nuns, full of gilded images of heaven, static saints, guilt and failure and sin, the bizarre "language of seduction" that the Church uses. The book is suffused with "atmospheric" Catholicism, but she slips up on pg. 342, when she says the impoverished abbey has a holy relic, the finger-bone of the Virgin Mary, which is impossible since the Church teaches that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul, so there wouldn't be any finger bones left to use as holy relics. And I'm pretty sure that's been set in stone for quite some time. And even if the nuns were passing a chicken bone off as a holy relic, as they were wont to do in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, they wouldn't have been hurting for money, thanks to the flocks of pilgrims it would attract. So that throws a kink in the works, but only if you're a nit-picky recovering Catholic like me. I'm sure the good Sisters of Mercy (ha) would be glad to know that 12 years of catechism classes are mainly being used to detect doctrinal errors in mass-market paperbacks.
The Tragic Lesbian makes a (mercifully) brief appearance, to my great annoyance, and Harris lays on the foreshadowing with a trowel, but for the most part it's good stuff. Fun and suspenseful. She keeps you on your toes, switching narrators without warning or indication, slowly weaving her plot together, drawing out the questions and ominous tension until the absolute last moment. But the lit crit geek in me just can't help pulling a book like this to pieces even though I liked it.

New to the blogroll: Horatians, a discussion site for all your Horatio Hornblower needs, and the Forbidden Library, a catalogue of banned and challenged books.


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