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Holy Fools by Joanne Harris - Review

Saturday, May 5, 2018

I rarely reread books, because there are just so many beautiful books waiting to be read, but I do have my favourite books and every now and then I think to reread one. I was nominated for that Facebook meme recently where you had to share your top ten books (I'd already done my top ten albums) and I had to think really hard about what my favourite books are. I haven't actually shared my top ten books on Facebook yet, but I may as well tell you:
  1. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
  2. Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale
  3. The Seduction of Water - Carol Goodman
  4. Five Quarters of the Orange - Joanne Harris
  5. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
  6. T.H.U.G - Angie Thomas
  7. Station Eleven - Emily St John Mendel
  8. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
  9. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  10. The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
Wow, typing these out really makes it clear that I prefer books by women! Some of these have been on my favourite list for absolutely years, but some are obviously newer additions. 

Joanne Harris' early books are all great, although I definitely love Five Quarters of the Orange the most. That's partly because of its setting, on the banks of the Loire river. I love France and the Loire especially - I've spent quite a few happy holidays there and it is a really special place. The Loire in the book becomes almost a character in its own right; it is terrifying. The World War II setting is really fascinating as well.

I remember very clearly how I first got into Joanne Harris. I did French A level at college between 2000 and 2002, and in my first year I had a French French teacher, called Frederique. She was a really good teacher and she really stretched our French. She was reading Chocolat, and she offered to lend it to me. I loved it - I love the mixture of mythology, theology, folklore, family, found family, all of that stuff. I made both my parents read it and they really liked it too. I followed Joanne's next few books closely.

Blackberry Wine didn't thrill me, so I've never reread it. Five Quarters of the Orange is stunning, as I've said. Coastliners is really good too, set on an island a little like the Ile de Re, somewhere I've been a couple of times. I love the Atlantic coast of France, and I think the novel is really evocative of the area. Gentlemen and Players moves its setting from France to a boys school in Yorkshire, and it is also one of my favourite books. The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure are both sequels to Chocolat. I really wish my dad could have read Peaches for M. Le Cure, but he died before it was published. I don't think I've read any of the other ones, and I haven't read any of the Norse mythology books that Joanne has written, but I know my stepdad and Mum have enjoyed them.

Anyway, Holy Fools. I was wandering through my bookshelves, as I do, and I thought to myself that I really ought to reread this book. I think I've only read it once, or maybe twice. It's set in the early 1600s, at an Abbey on an island off the Brittany coast, I think.

The protagonist, Juliette, is now a nun in the Abbey, known as Soeur Auguste. She arrived at the abbey posing as a young widow. Her daughter, Fleur, has been allowed to live with her, and under the old Abbess, life has been pretty sweet for five years. But then the Abbess dies, and in her place arrives Mere Isabelle, who is twelve years old and the daughter of one of France's most well known families, the Arnaults. With her is a man that Juliette knows well. In her former life she was Ailee, the Winged One, a talented tightrope walker in LeMerle's theatre of players. LeMerle is posing as Pere Columbin, a good Catholic priest, but Juliette knows she can't trust him. He begins to whip up the nuns into a frenzy and casts suspicion upon Juliette. Juliette must try to stop him before he damages the both of them.

I enjoyed my reread. I liked Juliette's recollection of her days with her theatre troup. I felt like the middle dragged a bit, and I didn't like the very end - I felt like the denouement wasn't as good as it could have been. But this is an excellent book anyway, and I'm giving it four out of five.

I also now quite want to reread Chocolat...


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