SAINT THRSE OF LISIEUX: A Penguin Life

Kathryn Harrison, Author . Viking/Lipper $19.95 (227p) ISBN 978-0-670-03148-1

Harrison pens an impressionistic biography of "the little flower," the beloved French saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. Harrison suggests that a more accurate term might be "the little nettle," since the 19th-century saint's legacy is not just sentimental but also stinging. The much-petted youngest child in a close-knit, pious French family, Thérèse was just four and a half when she lost her mother to breast cancer, a void she filled with her four older sisters as well as visions of the Holy Mother. The precocious and sickly Thérèse received a special papal dispensation to enter the cloister at the tender age of 15. (Initially refused by both the Mother Superior and her local bishop, Thérèse overrode their authority and went straight to the pope.) This is no hagiography; Harrison can be quite critical of the cosseted and self-righteous young Thérèse, whom she finds to be "at once girlishly naïve and infuriatingly self-important." It also sometimes veers too far in the direction of psychobiography, with Harrison dwelling on what she calls Thérèse's repressed sexuality and the emotional nature of her early illnesses. Readers may disagree with Harrison's interpretations, but few could quibble with her writing style, which is simply gorgeous. Her prose sings like the novels she is known for (Thicker Than Water; Poison; Seeking Rapture), and the biography reads like a particularly juicy novella. (Sept. 29)

Reviewed on: 07/14/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 301 pages - 978-0-7862-5917-5
Hardcover - 210 pages - 978-0-297-84728-1
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