A Recent Martyr by Valerie Martin
August 1, 2010 By Leave a Comment
- Paperback: 216 pages
- Publisher: Louisiana State University Press (October 2001)
- ISBN-10: 0807127418
- ISBN-13: 978-0807127414
reviewed by Kathleen Valentine
Sad, beautiful, and disturbing….<
Emma is obsessed with Pascal. Pascal is obsessed with Claire. Claire is obsessed with God. This strange and compelling love story is both erotic and spiritual and blurs the lines between the two at times. Emma is married and involved in an affair that is both destructive and irresistible. Then she meets Claire a young postulant in a convent whose religious fervor is such that the nuns have required her to live in the world for a year before taking her vows. Both Emma and Pascal become fascinated and then oddly obsessed with this strange young woman who loves God and does not suffer fools gladly.
All the characters in this book are fully developed, rich and, in a strange way, bent on self-destruction—much like the largest character in the story, the city of New Orleans. A mysterious plague ravages the city throughout the tale and adds to the tension and the final, heart-breaking chapters. Valerie Martin is the author of the utterly stunning novel, Mary Reilly, which reinvents the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and tells it from the perspective of Jekyll’s housemaid, Mary Reilly. Obsession is a common theme in literature but unlike the ham-fisted story-telling of too many popular writers, Martin never makes that mistake. She has an absolute brilliance for subtlety and nuance that leaves you wondering if what you are thinking is what she really meant.
In developing Claire and her utter devotion to her Faith and to God a less skillful writer might have made her so annoyingly sweet as to be unbearable but in Martin’s hands Claire is crochety, determined, willful (even with the nuns who are her counselors), and lacks patience with those who try to deter her from the path she has chosen. It is this stubborness that leads to the shattering climax and which devastates those who loved Claire. This story, so skillfully crafted, is an undiscovered masterpiece in my opinion, and I only hope more readers discover it.
An extraordinary story told by a masterful writer.