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[279] Holy Fools – Joanne Harris

” The abbey is perhaps the only refuge where the past may be left behind. But the past is a sly sickness. It may be carried on a breath of wind; in the sound of a flute; on the feet of a dancer. ” [1, 5]
” I was young; intoxicated, to be sure, by my new life; but Isabelle’s daughter was not to be blinded by frills and fripperies. No, it was love that blinded me, and when our ship of dreams struck aground, it was love that kept me at his side. ” [5, 27]

Britanny, 1610. Juliette has once been an actress and rope dancer. Betrayed by a troupe leader for whom she has mistakenly planted the seed of affection, she is forced to seek refuge among the sisters of the abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-mer. Renivented as Soeur Auguste, Juliette told the sisters that she was a widow when she arrived five years ago.

We share little except a need for privacy, a mistrust of men, an instinctive solidarity, which outweighed differences of upbringing and belief. Each one of us fleeing something we could not quite see. As I said, we all have our secrets. [2, 12]

Juliette’s comfortable life comes to an end when the kindly abbess dies. The successor, a girl from a corrupted religious family, whose shyness quickly reveals to be high-bred contempt, is so strict that the abbey’s way of life is overturned. But she is a fool to be manipulated by an impostor. Abetted on her reforms is a confessor, Pere Colombin, whose disguise and style Juliette, to her dread and shock, recognizes right away. It’s LeMerle the troupe leader—what’s his game in the abbey, if there is no monetary in it?

No as it was demonic influence, she was sure of it. Mere Isabelle was sure of it, and to such an extent that the new abbess had ordered Pere Colombin to bless the well and the entire abbey grounds if necessary. [20, 151]

Hence is an arm-race against time, between LeMerle and Juliette, who tries to outsmart one another, as LeMerle has succeeded in holding the sisters in the palm of his hand. He takes advantage of their shallow conviction in their faith; he creates in the abbey an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and demonic possession. As the abbey thrives on gossips and whispered scandal, Juliette has to think what the impostor’s next move will be—even though his grand motive is unknown. Holy Fools, a title that mocks religion’s thinking only in absolutes, is a story of intrigues and unimagined plottings. Harris is able to reveal and conceal, feeding just the necessary information to set up a belated climax.

355 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]