Impossible Saints

Michele Roberts, Author Ecco Press $24 (308p) ISBN 978-0-88001-597-4
British novelist and poet Roberts reminds us of the double meaning of passion--both suffering and rapture--in her latest novel, which suggests that mortal women might deserve sainthood for seizing the sensory and spiritual world, with Epicurean hunger and forgivable lust, by the throat. Wrought in the shape of ""a room within a room, like a jeweler's nested box,"" this gorgeous book weaves the lives of 10 would-be saints into the story of Josephine, a nun who adopts a niece, takes a priest for a lover and writes books that are censured by Church authorities. In a world in which the spice-filled air of ancient Mediterranean lands mixes with the damp chill of old and modern Britain, Josephine's mother inspires a love of forbidden knowledge and dies, leaving Josephine in her father's care. Against his wishes, Josephine enters a convent and lives a life like that of St. Teresa of Avila, the great 16th-century ascetic and mystic who gave up prayer for 15 years, underwent a spiritual reawakening and left behind a horde of poems, letters and essays. Deeply interested in the eros between fathers and daughters, Roberts (whose Daughters of the Night won the W.H. Smith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize) incorporates tales of the Virgin Mary, Lot and his daughters, Susanna and the elders and Shakespeare's Pericles without letting these strong precursors overwhelm her story. In her irreverent saints' lives, she shows us Paul with his pants down, Peter as an abusive father and canonization as it might have been if the church were overseen by a matriarchy that celebrated human energy, weakness and desire. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-15-600659-0
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