THE GOOD MEN

Charmaine Craig, Author . Riverhead $24.95 (399p) ISBN 978-1-57322-197-9

Chronicling the uncertainties and ethical crises of a village rector in early 14th-century France who struggles as much with his bodily yearnings as with his spiritual needs, this heady novel draws on depositions given during the French Inquisition to fictionalize the strange story of the Cathars, a Christian sect of medieval southern France. When the Cathars, or the Good Men, as they are known, enter rector Pierre Clergue's village of Montaillou, professing Satan's creation of all things mortal and preaching the renunciation of the flesh, Clergue, who has suffered mentally and physically from degenerative hip disease since age 11, is drawn to their teachings. In particular, he is strengthened by their determination to renounce women. And yet, like his masters, his renunciation of the flesh makes human communion even more tempting, and he finds he cannot help surrendering to his desire for Grazida Lizier, the 15-year-old daughter of his brother's bastard child. Although Craig relies a bit too heavily on biblical allusions to get her point across—an inquisitor, Bernard, is left, like Moses, as a babe "planted among the reeds"—her use of alternate vantage points creates a believable, poignant story based on themes of religious conviction and spiritual crisis. Her splendid use of imagery and fully fleshed out characters add depth to the novel, as do period details. The density of the material means the book will be best appreciated by those with some knowledge of the period, but resolute general readers will be helped along by several sharp and satisfying plot twists. Foreign rights sold in Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Italy.(Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/26/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
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