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Holy Fools    by Joanne Harris Amazon.com order for
Holy Fools
by Joanne Harris
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

This is Joanne Harris' fifth novel ... but such words are too mundane to announce the arrival of another book by the author of Chocolat. Harris also wrote Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, and a cookbook My French Kitchen, each unique and wonderful in its own way. Holy Fools is a departure for the author. Harris leaves the last century where she placed her previous stories. This time, we go back to the fifteenth century abbey of Saint Marie-de-la-Mer in Brittany.

Juliette, once an actress and rope-dancer, is forced to leave that life by the imminent birth of her daughter Fleur. Juliette becomes Soeur Auguste. At the death of the Abbey's benign Abbess, the post is filled by a twelve year-old girl, Isabelle an impossible situation. Add to that, Juliette's old lover and betrayer appears as this young girl's Father Confessor. Strange occurrences at the Abbey instill fear in the residents and produce weird conduct among the sisters - it's interesting to witness the crowd behavior.

Harris writes with a clarity of words, and a sense of serenity permeates her work. No matter how drastic the situation, her calmness bubbles out of the pages, as if assuring us that if we hang in there everything will work out. Her characterizations are marvelous. They delve deep into the soul of the player, laying him or her bare before us. By the time we have met the character for the second time, we not only know that person but their thoughts and motivations as well. The author's understanding of the human psyche is a delight to read and her actors are never dull.

Harris sets her scenes with the same care. She has the ability to pick up the reader's mind and plop it back down right in the action. The depiction of life in an abbey in the 1600s in Holy Fools makes one wonder if the author was actually there in a previous life. It is almost possible to catch the fragrance of bread baking in the air, and to taste the rough grain of the crust in our mouths, to feel the texture of nuns' habits next to our own skin, to feel the warm earth as a sister gardens. I think by now you realize I liked Holy Fools. It was a highlight of my reading year.

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