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*****= An all-time favorite
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*        = Good, with reservations


**Holy Fools

by Joann Harris

Reviewed June 23, 2004.
William Morrow, New York, 2004.  355 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (F HAR).

Joanne Harris’s books are mesmerizing.  She creates an exotic, strange and magical world that’s hard to tear yourself away from.

Holy Fools is set on an island in medieval France.  Juliette is a former traveling acrobat who has been living for five years at an abbey, posing as a widow and caring for her little daughter.  Five years ago, her troupe was betrayed by their leader, Le Merle.

Now Le Merle has come to the abbey.  He’s posing as a priest and has the new young abbess under his spell.  He sends Juliette’s daughter to the mainland, and Juliette must cooperate with his scheme if she wants to see her daughter again.  Le Merle has no faith and must be planning some clever plot, but can Juliette figure out his plan in time to thwart it?  Does she even want to?

The writing in this book is wonderful, but I’m afraid that besides Juliette and her daughter, there are hardly any likable characters.  Le Merle is a rogue, though he has a certain fascination for Juliette.  The nuns in the abbey are easily deceived, and Le Merle soon has them working against each other.  I’ve never liked it when religious figures are the villains, as in the Joanne Harris’s otherwise wonderful “Chocolat,” but these characters aren’t religious, they’re using the pretence of religion to hide other plans.  Religion and superstition are used as a tool, and it’s not exactly pleasant reading.  Here, those who are religious are not so much evil as simple-minded.

This is absorbing reading that can transport you to another time and place, but it’s not exactly a happy experience.

Reviews of other books by Joanne Harris:
Five Quarters of the Orange

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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