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Holy Fools [Hardcover]

Joanne Harris
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 May 2003
Set in seventeenth-century France against a backdrop of witch trials, regicide and religious frenzy, this is the story of Juliette, one-time actress and rope-dancer. Forced by circumstance to seek refuge with Fleur, her young daughter, in the remote abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-Mer, Juliette reinvents herself as Soeur Auguste under the tutelage of the kindly Abbess. But times are changing: the murder of Henri IV becomes the catalyst for massive upheaval in France. A new appointment is made, and Juliette's new life begins to unravel. For the new Abbess is Isabelle, the eleven-year-old child of a corrupt, noble family. Worse, Isabelle has brought with her a ghost from Juliette's past, masquerading as a cleric, a man she has every reason to fear...

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (1 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385603649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385603645
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 13 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,041,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of the Whitbread-shortlisted Chocolat (made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp) and many other bestselling novels. Her hobbies are listed in Who's Who as 'mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion'. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, is currently studying Old Norse, and lives with her husband and daughter in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from the place she was born

Photography © Takazumi Uemura

Product Description

Amazon Review

Holy Fools is Joanne Harris's most enjoyable novel yet, a beautifully detailed and sharply observed piece that emotionally moves the reader unlike anything she has tackled before. The immense success of Chocolat and Coastliners has made Harris one of the most cherished authors at work today, and each new book is something of an event.

Holy Fools is set in 17th century France, and the central character is Juliette, a former actress and rope dancer who has given up her travelling life to become a teaching nun at a remote abbey. Juliette has settled with her young daughter into an existence very different from that she knew, and she finds comfort from the advice of the wise and friendly abbess.

Harris brilliantly delineates both phases of her heroine's life: the colourful earlier era and the new demands of the semi-cloistered life. Things change radically when the abbess dies and her place is taken by an 11-year-old girl whose appetite for reform quickly destroys much that Juliet has come to love in her new life. What makes the book so refreshingly original is not just the unusual structure (the heroine's dual life alone is handled with radiant detail), but the surprising new trajectory the narrative takes after the death of the abbess, as everything Juliette was used to begins to go wrong.

We become involved in every minor crisis, however much we question that the religious life is the answer to her problems. Juliette is a brilliantly drawn character, and the plotting of this ambitious novel is both thoughtful and invigorating, while the basic theme--the ploys we all use to distract ourselves from the painful realities of existence--is handled with subtlety. --Barry Forshaw


'A tale of 17th-century witch trials might not sound like your usual read, but just try and put this down' -- Company

'Brilliant...An imaginative, colourful page-turner' -- Choice

'Her writing is as wonderful as ever...You won't be able to tear yourself away' -- Glamour

'Highly enjoyable' -- Independent on Sunday

'Hugely enjoyable' -- Observer

'Hugely enjoyable...Both consoling and wise' -- Amanda Craig, New Statesman (novel of the week)

'Truly sensational' -- Sunday Express

'With this bold, inventive book, Harris confirms her position as one of Britain's most popular novelists...Fresh and compelling' -- Daily Mail

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Another Joanne Harris Masterpiece 28 May 2003
By A Customer
Once again Joanne Harris has written a superb novel, in my opinion it’s the best one yet. She takes you to a small Abbey in a French village where life is comfortable, but something bad is in the air. King Henry is dead and a new Reform is on the way especially with the Church. Old wounds are opened and everyone’s dedication and belief questioned. The story is set over a six-week period where you feel you have read events for the whole day from morning vigils prayers to evening chapter prayers. The end of each day leaves you wanting more. (I couldn’t put this book down and was actually glad when my train was delayed in the mornings). The character Juliette is strong and resourceful, showing that education back then was as uninviting as the devil himself. The life Juliette thinks she is free from finds her and whether it claims her or not you’ll find out when you read it. The other characters are fantastically depicted and life at a nunnery comes across as amusing, difficult and lonely. I loved the detail and felt like I was at the Abbey myself watching events unfold, truths and lies told and emotions left unchecked. There is nothing that I disliked about the book and I recommend it to anyone who loves magic, mystery and suspense.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating 5 Oct 2004
I've been a fan of Joanne Harris since reading Chocolat, which is one of my favourite books of all time. I've read all her work and find her style of writing absolutely delicious.

In this book, she tells the story of a woman who tries to break away from her past by joining in a monastery in rural France, though her philosophy is much more gypsy than Christian.

This book is darker and more dramatic than her previous work, but once again, the characters are both compelling and well-drawn, and the plot is unpredictable and captivating.

Short chapters and a flowing storyline make it very easy to read - in fact, I didn't like having to take a break from it and ended up staying up very late one night to finish it.

All in all it's a good book, but it's not quite Chocolat.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review from South Africa 4 Jun 2003
By A Customer
Best-selling novelist Joanne Harris returns to France for her lovely new novel, Holy Fools.
Like Coastliners which precedes it, Holy Fools is set on the French coast, except this time most of the action takes place at an abbey where the main protagonist, Juliette – now living as a nun, Soeur August – has taken refuge with her infant daughter several years before.
Set in the 1600s, it juxtaposes the sometimes extreme religious values held in France at that time, as reflected by the nuns at the abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-Mer, and those of a rough and secular age, personified by the wandering players of the circus.
Over both of these worlds hovers the spectre of Guy LeMerle, nicknamed the Blackbird – an enigmatic risk-taker who has played a large part in Juliette’s colourful past.
Only he knows that she flew the high-wire as L’Ailée, the winged one, when they travelled the country as performers.
Will he arrive at the abbey and, if so, will it necessarily mean doom for Juliette and her little girl? This solid novel (more than 400 pages) takes the reader on a journey back and forth between Juliette’s two lives and it is not clear until near the end what is going to happen.
As in other Harris novels, religious dogma takes a battering and the free-spirited Juliette is in many ways reminiscent of Vianne Rocher from the gorgeous Chocolat.
Harris writes in a fluid and engaging way, drawing the reader on like a piper ahead of a minstrels’ caravan.
Definitely one for the book club.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing 15 Feb 2009
By Deborah
I'm glad I didn't read the reviews of this book until I had finished it, because there is such a variety of opinion that I might have lost sight of my own!

On the question of historical accuracy, I agree that it's very important, and a reference to pictures of the young king with the halo of sun behind him did make me do a double-take. But apart from that I couldn't find that Harris had mistaken her kings - references are made to his Medici mother and her removal of Sully, and of his marriage at around the right time, and the whole of the book takes place before Richlieu had entered politics. I can't comment further as that's the extent of my knowledge of French history of this time, but I thought Harris's evocation of time, place and atmosphere was superb.

As to the story itself - Yes, the nuns are a sorry lot with their tics and coughs - but I thought there was nothing of the theatrical freak show about them until the actor LeMerle started to work on them. Then, what were midly irritating mannerisms were exaggerated and intensified to serve his own purpose. I thought the development of Sister Antoine in particular was excellent, as was the extraordinary battle of wills between LeMerle and the child-Abbess Isabelle, so immature and at the same time so frighteningly strong. The fact that each of the nuns was scarred in their own way seemed natural - only such women would end up in an Abbey that had deteriorated so much - materially and religiously - and that had almost fallen off the Church's radar, so that it was more a shelter for the damaged than a House of God. LeMerle had to believe that they were weak enough and damaged enough for him to be able to do as he wanted with them.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting read
enjoying the book but then i am a fan of Joanne Harris. If you like this period of history i hope you enjoy her book!
Published 15 days ago by Angela Rothwell
5.0 out of 5 stars An Australian Christmas present
When saw this book after reading a review of same. It was a perfect present for our friend in Australia, and she has said she thoughrily enjoyed it whilst relaxing in the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by FarsleyMike
5.0 out of 5 stars good read
thoroughly enjoyed this book, unexpected story line but still found it up to my expectations would recommend you give it a try
Published 5 months ago by V.Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating mixture of history and mystery
This book was different to the other Joanna Harris books I've read, yet was still in her unmistakable style. I felt transported to another time and place; instant escapism.
Published 11 months ago by Mrs Melanie R Vale
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Fools by Joanne Harris
She has a wonderful way to describe things and one can visualize the situations in your mind as if watching a film. Read more
Published 15 months ago by S. G. Plested
3.0 out of 5 stars Holy Fools
When we are first introduced to Juliette she is living as Soeur Auguste - A nun, a mother, a healer, a fugitive and a keeper of secrets, both her own and those of her fellow nuns. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Book 1981
4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing tale
A bit darker and less light-hearted than some of Joanne Harris's other novels, set in a remote abbey in seventeenth century France. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Avid reader
1.0 out of 5 stars Weak and unconvincing
Having never read anything by Joanne Harris, I didn't have any particular expectations of this book, and yet still managed to end up feeling disappointed. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Michaela Drizhalova
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a fan, I gave up on it.
I loved blackberry wine, and chocolat was good also. But this book was so dull, and a little like chocolat, I felt no warmth towards the main character. Read more
Published on 25 July 2010 by Rhoanne May
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterly
I was sorry I left it so long to read this because it is such an enjoyable novel and I should have treated myself to it before. Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2010 by M. J. Saxton
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