Soeur Auguste
(creator: Joanne Harris)

Joanne Harris
Soeur (Sister) Auguste (previously called Juliette and, as an acrobat, l'Ailée, meaning The Winged One) must be the most unusual nun included on this site. She "doesn't believe in sin" and has devoted her days "to a God for whom I have little affection and less understanding". In fact, she says, "I have never believed in God. Not in your God anyway".

In 1610, she has been at her remote marshland abbey of Saint Marie-de-la-Mer for five years, having gone there because it seemed the only place where, by pretending she was a widow, she could take her much-loved illegitimate five-year-old daughter, Fleur, who had been "a joy from the beginning". It is for her "that I wear the red cross of the Bernadines .... but with her at my side, this life is far from unpleasant. The cloister at least is safe. I have my garden. My books. My friends. Sixty-five of us, a family larger and closer in some ways than any I ever had ... Few of us were impelled by holy vocation". Soeur Germaine, for example, "has no faith, no interest in religion of any kind. I spoke to her once about my female God - I thought it might appeal to her, hating men as she did - but she seemed as indifferent to that as she was to the rest".

Sister Soeur is a determined, brave, resourceful woman with a mind of her own. Under her name of Juliette, she had originally been an accomplished and very agile public performer, specialising in rope dancing, when she had fallen under the malevolent influence of the murderous and unscrupulous Guy LeMerle ("the Blackbird") who had loved, betrayed and abandoned her. He is never far out of her mind, although, as she was warned years before: "You know he's worthless, you know he doesn't give a damn, and that he'll betray you some day or another. But you want to believe in him all the same. He's like those statues you see in churches, all gold and glitter on the outside, plaster on the inside. We know what they're made of really, but we pretend we don't, because it's better to believe in a false god than in no god at all".

Joanne Harris (1964 - ) is the best-selling author of a number of well-known books including Chocolat, Blackberry Wine and Coastliners. She lives in Huddersfield in Yorkshire with her husband and daughter. She was born in Barnsley of a French mother and an English father, and went on to read Modern and Mediaeval Languages at St Catherine's College, Cambridge. She taught for 15 years, during which time she published her first three novels.

Holy Fools (2003)
Holy Fools is nearly all set in 1610 in
an abbey where even the kindly old abbess (who dies at the start of the story) couldn't read Latin, and indeed, like most of the nuns, probably couldn't read at all. Religious observance is nothing if not casual. Then the new abbess arrives. To everyone's amazement she is eleven-year-old Mother Isabelle (niece of the bishop who sent her), and she's accompanied by one Père Colombin de Saint-Amand , her confessor, whom Juliette immediately recognises as LeMerle himself (see above). It turns out that he has an agenda of his own - but one not calculated to spread joy and happiness to anyone but him. Juliette sets about finding out what it is that he is really up to.

Meanwhile young Mother Isabelle, prompted by him, insists on carrying out a thorough reform of the abbey's slack ways, and soon multiple demons are being exorcised and the whole place talks "of nothing but devils and curses". LeMerle takes and hides little Fleur away, so that he can ensure the co-operation of Juliette, who is plotting to escape from his clutches. It all gets distinctly melodramatic, but the author is a really good story-teller even if she has little sympathy with conventional Christianity. Indeed, in Who's Who, she lists "priest-baiting" as one of her hobbies. As LeMerle says, "Of course, the wonderful thing about the Bible is that there's a quote to justify anything, even lechery, incest and the slaying of infants".

The narrative is sometimes by Juliette, and sometimes by LeMerle, so this can get a little confusing at times. But the increasing tension, and the building up of a sense of sorcery and devil-possession to a really dramatic climax, make it a gripping read. Although the story is pure fiction, the idea for it came from a real-life eleven-year-old Mother Superior who had brought about strict reforms in an abbey in Port-Royal.

Joanne Harris has her own very comprehensive website. Recommended for anyone interested in her.



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Holy Fools dust cover
An attractive and sophisticated cover, even if it is not immediately obvious what it all means.
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