A first novel about the friendship of two remarkable Frenchwomen during the Counter-Reformation, courtesy of former longtime Time editor Grunwald (Twilight, 1999, etc.).
In the aftermath of Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church, Nicole Tavernier, a young Catholic from Reims, comes to Paris in 1594, preaching conversion from heresy and healing the sick. Little is known of her past life, but her devotion to the poor and sick as well as her reputation as a healer soon bring a following. Nicole is introduced by her parish priest to the wealthy and devout Barbe Acarie, the wife of the leader of the Holy League (which fought to prevent the rise of Protestantism in France), and the older woman becomes Nicole’s most devoted friend and mentor. Herself a mystic given to prolonged religious ecstasies, Madame Acarie comes to rely more and more on Nicole’s companionship after her husband is exiled from Paris by the Protestant Henry IV. Religious fervor is hardly without its dangers, and Nicole is eventually accused of witchcraft as a result of some of her more extravagant claims (e.g., that an angel had brought her Holy Communion). Nor is her case helped when Madame Acarie catches her out in a small lie and lost faith in her. When a skeptical Jesuit ask Rene Monnet, the Acarie family physician, to investigate Nicole’s case, the good doctor makes his way to Reims and learns that the seer is not what she appears to be. Nevertheless, he manages in the end to reconcile her to Madame Acarie, who becomes a nun after her husband’s death and is proposed for canonization after her own. Grunwald successfully evokes the strange, fervid quality of Madame’s holiness, as well as the stranger, wilder charisma of Nicole.
An odd tale, set in the past but not really historical: rather, an intriguing mystery of two very different women intent on the same goal of Divine Union.