Summary and book reviews of Holy Fools by Joanne Harris

Holy Fools

A Novel

by Joanne Harris

Holy Fools
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2004, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2005, 384 pages

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Book Summary

In the year 1605 a young woman, hiding from her past, takes up the veil becoming Soeur Auguste. Five years later the past has found her and to protect herself and her beloved child she'll have to perform one last act of dazzling daring more audacious than any she has previously attempted.

With her internationally bestselling novels Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, and Coastliners, Joanne Harris has woven intoxicating spells that celebrate the sensuous while exposing the passion, secrets and folly beneath the surface of rustic village life. In Holy Fools, her most ambitious and accomplished novel to date, she transports us back to a time of intrigue and turmoil, of deception and masquerade.

In the year 1605, a young widow, pregnant and alone, seeks sanctuary at the small Abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-mer on the island of Noirs Moustiers off the Brittany coast. After the birth of her daughter, she takes up the veil, and a new name, Soeur Auguste. But the peace she has found in remote isolation is shattered five years later by the events that follow the death of her kind benefactress, the Reverend Mother.

When a new abbess -- the daughter of a corrupt noble family elevated by the murder of King Henri IV -- arrives at Sainte Marie-de-la-mer, she does not arrive alone. With her is her personal confessor and spiritual guide, Père Colombin, a man Soeur Auguste knows all too well. For the newcomer is Guy LeMerle, a charlatan and seducer now masquerading as a priest, and the one man she fears more than any other.

Soeur Auguste has a secret. Once she was l'Ailée, "The Winged One," star performer of a troupe led by LeMerle, before betrayal forced her to change her identity. But now the past has found her. Before long, thanks to LeMerle, suspicion and debauchery are breeding like a plague within the convent's walls -- fueled by dark rumors of witchcraft, part of the false priest's brilliantly orchestrated scheme of revenge. To protect herself and her beloved child, l'Ailée will have to perform one last act of dazzling daring more audacious than any she has previously attempted.

Chapter One

July 3rd, 1610

It begins with the players. Seven of them, six men and a girl, she in sequins and ragged lace, they in leathers and silk. All of them masked, wigged, powdered, painted; Arlequin and Scaramouche and the long-nosed Plague Doctor, demure Isabelle and the lecherous Géronte, their gilded toenails bright beneath the dust of the road, their smiles whitened with chalk, their voices so harsh and so sweet that from the first they tore at my heart.

They arrived unannounced in a green and gold caravan, its panels scratched and scarred, but the scarlet inscription still legible for those who could read it.

LAZARILLO'S WORLD PLAYERS!
TRAGEDY AND COMEDY!
BEASTS AND MARVELS!

And all around the script paraded nymphs and satyrs, tigers and olifants in crimson, rose, and violet. Beneath, in gold, sprawled the proud words: PLAYERS TO THE KING

I didn't believe it myself, though they say old Henri had a commoner's tastes, preferring a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

Joanne Harris is known for crafting enticing storylines set in deliciously imaginative locales. With Holy Fools, she once again transports us to a time and venue steeped in fervor. The opening scene alone signals the novel's ironic and intriguing undertones as a troupe of vagabond actors dazzles the residents of a remote French abbey, tucked away on an island off the coast of Brittany. It is the year 1610, an era of violent upheaval following the murder of King Henri IV. And with that brief visit from the performers, it will be a year of upheaval for the nuns of Sainte Marie-de-la-mer as well. Before Part One concludes, an adolescent is installed as Mother Superior, the acting troupe's seductive star begins ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist - GraceAnne DeCandido

Harris' usual command of sense description does not fail her, ever, but the breathtaking denouement is marred by LeMerle's unremitting and soulless viciousness.

Publishers Weekly

Harris adds spicy characterizations, tart dark humor and seductively pungent prose, and poses some provocative questions...Readers looking for another Chocolat will be disappointed, but those who appreciate Harris's storytelling skills and enjoy fiction with a gothic twist will love this.

Kirkus Reviews

Harris does a creditable job recreating the atmosphere of a very distant time and place, and infuses it with a sharp if somewhat obvious tale.

Library Journal - Susan Clifford Braun

A cleverly structured drama populated with timelessly colorful characters, this is sure to be a hit with the author's wide community of readers. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

Stephen Braithwaite


The Book "Holy Fools" by Joanne Harris, is set in in France in the 1600
and something, in Gothic times of plague and the burning of witches.
The main character, Juliette, is an ever resourceful gypsy woman who
grew up in show business. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Joanne Harris was born in Yorkshire in 1964, the daughter of a French mother and an English father. Her first novel, The Evil Seed, was published in 1989, although she strongly advises against reading it! Since then she has written; Sleep, Pale Sister (1993); Chocolat (1999); Blackberry Wine (2000); Five Quarters of the Orange (2001), Coastliners (2002), The French Kitchen (2002), Holy Fools (2003) and Jigs and Reels (2004).

Her next book, Gentlemen and Players, is scheduled for October 2005. The Latin master, a well known eccentric and veteran of St Oswald's grammar school for boys is finally contemplating retirement - but beneath the little rivalries, petty disputes and everyday crises of the School, a darker undercurrent stirs....

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