Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Recent Martyr by Valerie Martin

A young nun unsettles people in an unfamiliar New Orleans.

I didn’t quite know what was going on in this novel, but I'm not sure if I minded that much.  The key thing here is the mood.  There are three main characters – the aristocratic Pascal, his lover Emma, and Claire, the novice nun who fascinates them. The story is set in New Orleans, but not the real New Orleans – this is a dystopian New Orleans, cut off from the rest of the country, afflicted by plagues, lawlessness, a lack of gasoline and public transport. (Hmm - sound familiar?)  Claire loves Jesus, Emma loves Pascal – actually she love the way he brutalizes her, and Pascal loves Claire. Emma has to leave Pascal because she realizes that her sexual obsession is going to get her killed. Claire is a saint – causing no conflict for her, but does for almost everyone she meets. She changes their lives. The author skillfully creates a mood of decay, of futility. I’m not sure there is any redemption at the end.

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