by Joanne Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Holy Fools / 0-552-77001-9
What happened here? I loved "Chocolat", and I adored "Five Quarters of the Orange". "Holy Fools", however, seems like it came from a completely different author. The book is acceptable, but not up to Harris' standards.
To start, the Mother-Daughter theme that Harris employs so well is deeply underdeveloped here as more of a plot device than anything else. There was a lot of potential here: a nun with a beloved daughter, raising her to be safe from the outside world and yet perhaps a little too sheltered. Unfortunately, the daughter seems a little underdeveloped - neither rebellious and wanting to know the curiosities of the outside world nor a little too content in her cocoon. Instead, the daughter seems only to exist to serve as a kidnap/hostage victim so that our heroine cannot effectively flee or intervene when the madness begins.
I could accept the "daughter as hostage" plot device, were the main character not so otherwise one-dimensional. The evil mustache-twirling villain has abused her in numerous ways, and yet she seems intently less interested in bearing a grudge and more intent on mooning her way back into his bed. Once there, however, it never seems to occur to our heroine to tie him up and "persuade" him to tell her the secret location of her kidnapped daughter; instead, she just focuses on having a nice tumble and heading off cheerily the next morning. The lackluster narrative conflicts deeply with the established character of the narrator - she's been shown to have great survival skills and would manage easily on her own with the child outside the nunnery, so why does it not even occur to her to take a runner?
Harris' crisp insight into females isn't just lost on our heroine. All the women in this novel are almost irredeemable idiots. The nuns descend almost instantly into madness under the manipulation of the villain. This isn't presented as religious hysteria; the women seem either intensely stupid or completely eager to join the villain for their own selfish reasons. The subtlety necessary for religious hysteria seems completely absent here, which is astonishing because I believe that if anyone could have pulled it off, Harris could have. Again, what happened here?
This isn't a bad novel. It's got enough cliches to shake a stick at, and it's incredibly frustrating at bits, but so are many decent novels. But this *is* a bad novel for Harris. You may enjoy this, if you check it out at a library, but don't expect Harris quality. In the end, I didn't hate it, but I was deeply disappointed.
~ Ana Mardoll
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