Rather than marry a brute, a 12th-century damsel opts for the life of an anchoress, walled up in a cell, in this mystical French story infused with fairy tale and feminism.
On a cliff overlooking the Loue River, the ruined Castle of Whispers is given voice by its virgin, Esclarmonde, the beautiful daughter of a minor lord but great knight, who in 1187 evades the powerlessness of most of her gender by refusing the hand of a rough nobleman, choosing faith instead and a life bricked up inside a cell attached to a chapel forevermore. Her only access to the world is a barred window outside which visitors and pilgrims begin to gather. However, just prior to her entombment, Esclarmonde was raped, and although able to conceal her pregnancy from attendants and believers, she can’t conceal the resultant baby, a son, Elzéar. Deftly blurring the line between reality and mystery, Martinez (The Threads of the Heart, 2012) keeps the reader guessing about the story’s miraculous events and its characters’ powers, including Elzéar’s—the son who may be capable of delivering powerful visions, allowing his mother to glimpse the terrible suffering of her father’s army, which is heading to the Crusades. This and other tragedies intensify Esclarmonde’s fate, leading to a cataclysmic yet transcendent conclusion.
Transient in impact, but a powerfully visualized magic-realist fable.