CHILDREN OF THE BLACK SABBATH by Anne HÉbert

CHILDREN OF THE BLACK SABBATH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It is disappointing to find dark stylist HÉbert shifting from the earthly evils of Kamouraska (1973) to the supernatural, but it must be admitted that Sister Julie of the Trinity--a novice at the Quebec convent of the Sisters of the Precious Blood--is the most compellingly possessed sorceress to quiver along in years. When we first meet her, it is 1940s wartime, her beloved brother Joseph is overseas, and she is resisting her inherited powers, wanting ""just one thing of God: to become a nun like the others for all eternity."" But childhood memories seep in--the shanty where Julie's sensual parents conducted orgiastic black sabbaths, where her father (the devil?) raped her, where her mother failed in an attempt to initiate rebellious Joseph (""No bloody witch will take me alive!"") into sex and Satanism. Then jealous-making news of Joseph's marriage to a British girl breaks down any remaining reticence, and Julie is off and haunting. Nuns die (so does Joseph's wife, zapped long-distance), priests receive erotic, dangerous midnight visits, secret wishes are granted, and venal secret selves (the Sister Bursar's money-madness, the Grand Exorcist's puerile vanity) are exposed. All this while Julie fox-trots in her locked cell, becomes mysteriously, impossibly pregnant, and waits for Joseph to return to her and to Satan. This wild scenario is muted, insinuated rather than spat out, in HÉbert's rhythmic, economical word-sorcery: Julie switches pronouns and tenses without a moment's confusion; images flow telegraphically without self-consciousness. Probably too artful for most lovers of demons and too demonic for most lovers of art, this Black Sabbath may not be attended en masse, but it deserves at least a sizable coven.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Crown