‘Holy Fools’ by Joanne Harris


Fiction – hardback; Doubleday; 430 pages; 2003.

I was looking forward to Joanne Harris’s latest fare so much I went out and bought Holy Fools as a full-price hardcover, something I’ve never done before. But I figured the enjoyment I’d get from her newest fiction would be well worth the £15 price tag. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

This book was incredibly disappointing. It took me a very long time to read, which is uncharacteristic of my past experiences with Harris’s novels — normally I whizz through them at lightening-fast pace, enjoying every moment.

By comparison Holy Fools was, at times, mind-numbingly dull. This may sound harsh, but I did try very much to like this book. On the surface it had everything going for it: an “exotic” setting (a remote abbey on a French island), an interesting historical backdrop (17th century France during a time of great political upheaval) and inspired themes (religious dogma versus witchcraft). But this was merely window dressing; scratch the surface and there was little underneath.

The characterisation resorts to cheap stereotypes and the plot was virtually nonexistent. The tension between the protagonist — Juliette, a one-time circus performer who takes refuge in the abbey with her young child — and Guy LeMerle — her ex-lover now turned charlatan priest — is weak and uninspired. I kept waiting for the story to go somewhere, for the characters to develop and grow, but this did not eventuate.

Harris may have built a reputation as a successful author, one of the first in recent times to get the “literary novel” into the bestseller lists, but Holy Fools is a disappointing edition to her captivating “series” of French books.

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