In every war there are stories that do not surface. You can try to forget, but sometimes the past can return: in the scent of a bar of soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the color of an undelivered letter.
Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up side by side in the Catholic village of Ste. Madeleine, but their worlds could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society. Jeanne's mother washes clothes for a living. She used to be a Jew until this became too dangerous. Jeanne does not think twice about stealing food when she is hungry, nor about grasping the slender chances life throws at her. Marie-Angèle does not grasp; she aspires to a life of comfort and influence. When war falls out of the sky, the forces that divide the two girls threaten to overwhelm those that bind them together. In this dizzying new order, the truth can be buried under a pyramid of recriminations.
Michèle Roberts's new novel is a mesmerizing exploration of guilt, faith, desire, and judgment, bringing to life a people at war in a way that is at once lyrical and shocking.
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"The first chapter works really well, but as the novel progresses it gets increasingly less lyrical and more confusing in terms of plot, time and characters. Although there are aspects to admire, there's a lot of material that is both conventional and cumbersome."
"Starred Review. Roberts's polished, ornately wrought prose adds depth and a sense of acute realism to her captivating story - which flows seamlessly between the protagonists as they take turns narrating this accomplished and inspired novel of wartime France." - Publishers Weekly
"A worthy novel unusual for its tough-minded, unsparing story and the restrained method of its telling." - Kirkus Reviews
"Roberts, daughter of a French mother and an English father, is neither harsh nor lenient in her view of what happens in small towns when the population faces hunger, terror, coercion and bribery. No extraordinary acts force open the trap that holds her characters. For all the poetic richness of her writing, Roberts is a realist, and Ignorance is a novel of considered maturity." - Helen Dunmore, The Guardian (UK)
"Ignorance is a novel about moral choices. It's also about the chances in life that make some people comfortable even as they fail to comprehend their good fortune. Different characters tell the same story, moving backwards and forwards in time. Sometimes Jeanne's voice, with its imaginative flights, sounds more like Roberts's than a young woman of her time. But Marie-Angele's boundless complacency hides a gripping story of fear, arrests and personal tragedy." - Joan Smith, The Independent (UK)
"Her deceptively simple narrative provides a devastating critique of religious hypocrisy and bourgeois morality, couched in gloriously pointillist prose." - Michael Arditti, Daily Mail (UK)
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Michèle Roberts is the author of twelve highly acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House, which won the WH Smith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Half English and half French, Roberts lives in London and in the Mayenne, France. She is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and was recently made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government.
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