Monday, 18 May 2009

Holy Fools - Joanne Harris

It is set in France, at the beginning of the 17th century, a time of political and social upheaval following the murder of the king, Henri IV. It is the story of Juliette, a onetime acrobat and rope-dancer, now retired and living under an assumed identity as a nun (of all things), with her daughter, Fleur, in a tiny island convent off the Brittany coast.

Juliette - or Soeur Auguste, as she is now known - has had a troubled and eventful life. Raised by gypsies, persecuted by the Church, separated from her adopted family, driven to begging and prostitution to make ends meet, she manages to find a kind of stability as a performer in a dance troupe led by Guy LeMerle, known as The Blackbird; an actor, playwright and petty criminal with whom the young Juliette becomes infatuated.

After some years on the road and some popular success, the troupe is scattered, following a disastrous brush with the law. Juliette, now pregnant and thoroughly disillusioned with the itinerant life, finds refuge in the abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-mer, under the protection of the kindly Abbess. However, the death of the Abbess, a few months after the murder of the king in Paris, plunges the convent into disarray. The old regime is at an end; a new Abbess has been appointed (for political reasons), a young woman of noble birth who intends to introduce reform on a grand scale. Juliette's dismay is compounded when the new Abbess reveals herself to be a child of only eleven years of age, raised in Paris and quite unable to appreciate the needs and feelings of a group of country nuns. Worse still, she has brought her confessor with her, and Juliette recognizes him at once.

Now masquerading as a priest, Guy LeMerle, Juliette's old associate, clearly intends mischief. Unable to unmask him without betraying herself and putting her daughter in jeopardy, Juliette is drawn unwillingly into his plans. But as LeMerle leads the nuns gradually into confusion, hysteria and finally, chaos, Juliette realizes that he has more than simple extortion in mind. And as the story builds up to a confrontation from which only one of them can escape with their life, Juliette is cruelly torn between her loyalty to her convent friends, her instinct as a mother and her enduring love for a man who has betrayed her once before, and who will not hesitate to do so again…

Having read Chocolate and Five Quarters of the Orange when i saw this one on the library shelf in our Community Centre i thought i was in for another great read. I have to say i was disappointed, and when i took a friend to the hospital on Friday and sat in the waiting room reading and 2 different nurses asked what i was reading and both commented on it being 'not a patch on her others' and 'not one i would read again' i have to say i totally agree with them.

Has anyone else read this? did you enjoy it?


Always smiling said...


I saw Chocolat and loved the film so then I read her Lollipop Shoes and it was a struggle... so I might leave this on the shelf!


Clare - Aimetu said...

Chocolat is my all time favourite book - and last year I had the pleasure of reading it in the South of France with a bottle of red wine and some very nice french choloates :)

I took The Lollipop Shoes on the same holiday and like Chris it was a struggle, in some ways I didn't like it because it was spoiling my heroine from Chocolat. I did however enjoy reading Blackberry Wine.

I'd like to read A Quarter of Orange but think this one my be a last resort.

Karan said...

Really enjoyed Chocolat but haven't read any of her others yet, including this one. Might borrow it from the library rather than buy it though, just to see what it's like. :0)

Julie said...

Nice to know i am not the only one who didn't rate this one.