An eerie, atmospheric account of a drifter who wanders into a remote French village, disappears, and comes to haunt the lives of the local inhabitants, in a sequel to The Murdered House (2000, not reviewed) from celebrated Provençal novelist Magnan.
The hilltown of Lurs is the kind of place where strangers are noticed—especially strangers as odd as Séraphin Monge, who stumbled into the village café one cold night in 1921. Silent, shy, and mysterious, Séraphin says little about himself but admits he’s an orphan who’s left home and has no clear destination ahead. Eager to make a little money, Séraphin agrees to fell some trees for a local farmer, but after only a few days he’s buried in a mudslide and given up for dead. His story might have ended there but for the fact that three townswomen had already fallen in love with him: Auphanie Brunel (who runs the café), Marie Dormeur (the baker’s daughter), and Rose Sepulcre (who owns a small factory nearby) are all determined that Séraphin’s body be recovered and given a Christian burial. They prevail upon Antoine (the factory foreman) to undertake the dangerous task of dredging the quagmire. Once Séraphin has been decently entombed, however, he finds little rest—for an odd series of miracles begin to take place at his grave. Marie’s blind son recovers his sight, the butcher’s disfigured boy is cured, and the village atheist converts and enters a monastery. The parish priest is dubious, and his bishop (fearing hysteria or fraud) is frankly hostile to the cult that has sprung up—so they secretly take action to nip the devotion in the bud. But there are also stories circulating of people who’ve seen Séraphin walking about long after he was supposed to have been buried in the mud. Is he a ghost? Or is he, in fact, still alive? Maybe this is one of those weird incidents that eventually turns into a legend—or maybe it’s something else altogether.
Redolent of atmosphere and narrated in an old-fashioned leisurely voice rarely heard nowadays: a story of the first rank—intriguing, exotic, and extremely strange.