Romantic spookery in a small village in southwest France in the 1920s, from Mosse (Sepulchre, 2008, etc.), co-founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Freddie Watson is a man on a mission. Parchment manuscript in hand, he goes to a bookstore in Toulouse to find someone able to translate Occitan, the medieval language of the region, into English. From that moment unfolds a tale that had begun several years before, on which one winter’s night Freddie had found himself traveling through the remote area of Occitania. Freddie’s recent past had been characterized by melancholia, a condition created by his distant and unloving parents as well as by the death of his beloved older brother George the day before the first assault on the Somme. For five years after he received news of George’s death, Freddie tried to repress his grief, but he finally had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized. Even in 1928 he still feels traumatized by the war that had taken his brother away. When he finds himself stranded in a remote valley, he begins to enter briefly into the life of the village (appropriately called Nulle), which is about to celebrate the fête de St. Etienne, a fixture of communal life since medieval times. At the local Ostal he meets the inscrutable and mysterious Fabrissa, a lovely, delicate woman who seems to know more about Freddie’s loss than is humanly possible. Freddie is of course dazzled by this bewildering and bewitching woman, and the townspeople are mystified as well when Freddie tries to tell them about his encounter, for they know of no one named Fabrissa. A story eventually emerges about a village tragedy that had occurred in the 14th century, when Catharism was rampant in the area and the villagers had taken refuge in some local caves. Fabrissa—or her ghostly self—ultimately helps Freddie deal with his painful present and serves as a redemptive force in his life.
Mosse’s prose has a gossamer quality well suited to the fantasy she spins.