by Anne Hébert
“But then you shouldn’t have provoked God. His silence is sometimes preferable to His word.”
Non-linear storytelling is one thing, but when written in the style of nightmare, hallucination and madness, some stories can become entirely different monsters. Published in 1977 and written in French, the book reads as if it’s 100 years older, and that’s not a bad thing for the subject material.
Sister Julie of the Ladies of the Precious Blood begins having horrible visions of the man Adélard and the woman Philoméne consisting of the violent sexual and physical depravity they visit upon each other and their two children. These visions, along with marks mysteriously appearing on Sister Julie’s body, serve to isolate and alienate her from her superiors in the nunnery.
The visions, however, may be more if Julie is actually the young girl and Joseph is really her brother in torment. Adélard, quite possibly Satan himself, and his wife have monstrous magical abilities that help enslave the town(s) around them to their homemade liquor and bloody rituals. But as Philoméne is seducing her son at a ceremony, he denies her and the age-old tradition of the most powerful demons being born of a mother and her son is broken. Sister Julie, back in the present day and locked inside a room where she should be causing no further disturbances, embraces her grotesque power and begins taking revenge upon the sisters that treated her poorly. With the entire building under her sway the air itself is considered poisoned as despair threatens to take over.
This book is absolutely not for everyone, and some may consider it slow based on its dreamlike quality. Incest and rape are all over the place and we’re dealing with a physical manifestation of The Devil, not on Earth briefly to steal a soul, but living here for hundreds of years–and all that that implies. It’s also filled with magic. It’s not the kind that creates rainbows, but no one’s throwing fireballs either. This is an earthy, decaying, disturbingly real form of magic born of sex and blood that is written well enough you can almost taste the filth through the visions. You may want to keep some Calvin and Hobbes around if attempting this one because it’s so dark and threatens madness as you follow.
There’s a lot to like here and much of it is because of the disturbing way the tale unfolds, never giving you much assurance as to what ground you’re on. Did she imagine that? Did they imagine she did that? Did I even read that right? The book unfolds like a nightmare which keeps you fascinated and forging ahead.
“Woe unto us, for Satan has descended upon us with great fury.”