Around the World for a Good Book Selection for France
Author: Carole Martinez
Title: The Castle of Whispers
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publication Info: Europa Editions, 2014
In 12th-century France, a 15-year-old girl from a noble family named Esclarmonde escapes an arranged marriage by offering herself to God. The form she takes is an anchoress, imprisoned in the walls of a chapel where she is to pray for the people of her town and the many pilgrims who are soon drawn too her. Shortly before being walled-up, Esclarmonde is raped and impregnated. The birth of her son is seen as a miracle by the local religious leaders who prefer not to ask the questions that would get to the truth of the matter.
The novel takes a lot of liberty with historical accuracy and plausibility, but I find it works. It’s an interesting exploration of the manner in which a woman could gain power in 12th-century Europe, as Esclarmonde is seen advising the local bishop (and the pope by proxy) as well as sending men off to fight in the Crusades. It also is a study of motherhood as Esclaramonde raises her son in her cell for three years until he grows to big to fit between the bars and is sent off to an adoptive family. Finally, it investigates the idea of faith with the suggestion that God may not exist, but the belief and rituals still have a positive function in their society.
Recommended books: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland and Memoirs Of A Medieval Woman: The Life And Times Of Margery Kempe by Louise Collis