IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS by Michèle Roberts

IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

KIRKUS REVIEW

A curious and unaccountably redundant seventh novel from the English-French author of, most recently, the prize-winning Daughters of the House (1993). In a smooth style that expertly details several distinct historical settings, Roberts tells two juxtaposed stories: the life of St. Josephine, as recalled by her formerly wayward niece Isabel, and capsule “lives” of 11 other women elevated (in some cases, virtually air-lifted) to sainthood. Both narratives are framed by chapters set in “The Golden House,” a reliquary where the bones of the devout dead are displayed and worshiped. It’s the final resting place, in a sense, of the restless Josephine, a bookish girl and precocious writer who, after an uncharacteristic act of teenage rebelliousness, is sent to a convent where “she struggled for years to get the hang of how she was supposed to be holy.— Roberts depicts Josephine as a truculent intellectual unsettled by manifestations of the divine (Christ visits her in bed at night); a passionate gardener, autodidact (for whom learning leads to humility), and socialist organizer who eventually founds her own convent. It’s hard to gauge Roberts’s aims in this narrative, which can be read as an ironical study of the psychological dimensions of religious devotion. Things are clearer in the 11 interpolated “lives,” whose subjects include St. Petronilla, the daughter of St. Peter, who’s mortified by the drunken post-crucifixion carousing of the apostles; St. Thais, who seduces her father and dies in the well to which she is thereafter confined; and St. Marin, a girl disguised as a boy who is falsely punished for “fathering” her father’s illegitimate child--and achieves martyrdom. These are broad, often startlingly sexually explicit caricatures of emotionally driven females (many of whom have a thing for, or are had by, their fathers) whose intensity alone, it seems, sanctifies them. Insouciant and entertaining, even when one doesn’t know quite what to make of it. The Vatican will not be amused.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-88001-597-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998




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