Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nun with child

I just finished reading Joanne Harris' Holy Fools, and I loved it. I think it's one of my favorite novels she's written, even better, perhaps, than Five Quarters of the Orange.

This novel deviates a bit from the Harris formula (though the absent father is still absent, and strong women figure heavily in the storyline). Holy Fools tells the story of Juliette, a young, French traveling performer in the 1600s. Juliette performs a high-wire act in Guy LaMerle's troupe, and she is LaMerle's sometimes-lover. A trickster, seducer, and gambler at heart, LaMerle is always looking for a way to make a buck, exact revenge on his enemies, and live the good life. After an awful betrayal, Juliette breaks with LaMerle. Years later, we find her living in a convent under an assumed name, with a young daughter (Fleur) at her heels.

Into her now-sedate life plows a new abess for the convent - Isabelle. And Isabelle's trusted confessor and aide is none other than LaMerle, now disguised as a man of the cloth. As Juliette tries to piece together LaMerle's endgame, she discovers her own true nature and the price she's willing to pay for the things she really values.

The more I read of Harris, the more I like her. I think Holy Fools is one of the best novels I've read in a while, and she's written several more books that I haven't gotten to yet.

This story moves along quickly, even more quickly as the ending approaches and the reader is rapt with anticipation. The point-of-view shifts continually from Juliette to LaMerle, which is a wonderful touch, as it shows you how, in many ways, the two characters are very much alike and almost destined to be together. As in most Harris novels, the story hinges on a very strong single mother, and Juliette is both cunning and sympathetic.

This book is less about foodie culture than the previous Harris novels I've read, but I didn't mind a bit. The story is engaging, and I polished this little gem off in about two days.

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