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on 28 May 2003
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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on 19 June 2017
I nearly gave up on this several times but wanting to know what happens to fleur kept me going.

I was shocked by this how women who was friends and family could just turn on each other.

It was amazingly described got the images of the settings really well just didn't think the story its self was very good.
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2010
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.

Juliette is a wonderful character to read: multi-faceted as L'Ailée and Soeur Auguste. The relationship with her daughter Fleur is full of love and care; the scenes of their days together really touching, and you can appreciate the depth of despair when the child is removed.

Juliette inspires affection in the reader because she is a perceivably good person with believable flaws. She is great as the flying heroine of the travelling players and sympathetic as the catalyst in the convent. I could use every available superlative for this character.

The plot is reminiscent of "The Devils of Loudun", to which it surely owes a debt, but Harris's twist is perfect for contemporary readers. It is also influenced by "Notre Dame de Paris" and "The Monk".

Harris has the knack of making you feel involved, as near being there as is possible. It's a wonderful talent.

LeMerle is an amalgamation of the troubadour-hero and gothic villain. He's bad, possibly mad, and definitely dangerous to know and thus has a certain glamour. He's a force to be reckoned with as he's an arch-manipulator, as witnessed in some powerful scenes with Mother Isabelle and the sisters. The duel of wits between he and Juliette develops with a plethora of thrusts worthy of the finest opponents.

It's got witchcraft, religion, intrigue, love, lust and weaves them into a damn good story.

Its link to "Coastliners" is even more engaging for Harris fans.
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on 15 February 2009
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.

The recognisable Harris traits - a particular type of heroine, once again with a young daughter - didn't jar either. The existence of Fleur is necessary to the plot, as is Juliette's own difference from the other women. I too preferred Chocolat and also The Lollipop Shoes, but I read this book in one sitting and couldn't put it down until I'd finished it, and I'll read it again.
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on 5 October 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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on 4 December 2017
An intriguing story of love, betrayal and revenge set in the 1800s in France with the heroine a tightrope walker in a circus act. A twist in the tale and a kind of happy ending make for a satisfying read. My favourite book of all the Joanne Harris I have read.
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on 4 June 2003
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 January 2016
This was a rather different but very enjoyable book. Much of the action occurs in a sixteenth century abbey where Juliette & her daughter live. Juliette is a feisty character with a colourful past. The book slowly unfolds Juliette's past & her current life until the two collide & reach a conclusion.

This was a book that was hard to put down. Some books set so far in the past can get bogged down in historical fact but this book handled it well. Giving enough to be interesting & as required by the plot, but not too much so it became boring.

Joanne Harris is not kind to the religious order in this book & portrays them very much as superstitious fools who are tricked by "The Blackbird". There is a definite trail of deceit.

I have read 3 of Joanne Harris' books & have enjoyed them all. They are well planned & researched with enough action to keep the reader wanting more. I found it hard to put this book down. This is a sizeable book but the pages flew by as I got enthralled in the story.
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on 25 April 2017
Having read some of her earlier novels (notably Chocolat) back in the 90's?) I had no hesitation I had no hesitation in buying this for my Kindle when I came across on my bookshelves. I can't say I have read it - rather I have 'perused' it. That much of it which I have digested, centres on the the Abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-mer which stands on a piece of reclaimed marshland on the half island of Noirs Moustiers. (This is located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, but not having a Times Atlas of the World I haven't been able to locate it.)
I familiarised myself with the characters Soeur Auguste (and her daughter Merle) and some of the Sisters; the newly arrived Abbess Isabella and her confessor, the sinister LeMerle. Isabella is how old? - she has only just reached puberty! Crazy!
I'm sorry to say his wasn't a page turner for me!
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VINE VOICEon 17 January 2005
If you have never read anything by Joanne Harris before, the vivid prose and intricate plotline of 'Holy Fools' will both grip and delight you. But if, like me, you read (and were spellbound by) the likes of 'Five Quarters of the Orange' and 'Chocolat', the novel is a disappointment.
I have read all the author's novels and a predictable trend has emerged. The protagonist of the typical Harris novel is almost always a woman with a dark, secretive past. This woman usually has an illegitmate child. She is without fail a skilled mystic who dabbles in witchcraft. She confronts convention and organized religion. The end.
'Holy Fools' is no exception. Harris has reached into her rag-bag and constructed Juliette using scraps of her other heroines. Although it is outstandingly well-written (though, like all novels, it does expect the reader to accept large doses of convenient coincidence - rather too much so in the denouement) it has a mechanical feel - here's one more standard Harris novel straight off the assembly line. The originality of her earlier works has been drowned out by overusage of the Model-T heroine. All these novels now read like playscripts that unfortunately utilise the same cast time after time. Only read 'Holy Fools' if you haven't got many of Joanne Harris's novels on your bookshelves; otherwise, you will quickly find her quirkiness and originality rapidly dissipating.
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