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Ignorance: A Novel

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Overview

In every war there are stories that do not surface. You can try to forget, but sometimes the past can return: in the scent of a bar of soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the color of an undelivered letter.

Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up side by side in the Catholic village of Ste. Madeleine, but their worlds could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society....

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Ignorance: A Novel

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Overview

In every war there are stories that do not surface. You can try to forget, but sometimes the past can return: in the scent of a bar of soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the color of an undelivered letter.

Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up side by side in the Catholic village of Ste. Madeleine, but their worlds could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society. Jeanne's mother washes clothes for a living. She used to be a Jew until this became too dangerous. Jeanne does not think twice about stealing food when she is hungry, nor about grasping the slender chances life throws at her. Marie-Angèle does not grasp; she aspires to a life of comfort and influence. When war falls out of the sky, the forces that divide the two girls threaten to overwhelm those that bind them together. In this dizzying new order, the truth can be buried under a pyramid of recriminations.

Michèle Roberts's new novel is a mesmerizing exploration of guilt, faith, desire, and judgment, bringing to life a people at war in a way that is at once lyrical and shocking.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The parochial prejudices of two provincial towns, Ste.-Marie and Ste.-Madeleine, and by extension France itself, are brilliantly revealed in this uncompromising novel of WWII ignominy and grief from Roberts, whose novel, Daughters of the House, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Marie-Angèle Blanchard and Jeanne Nérin both attend the school run by the local rectory, but the similarities end there. Marie-Angèle, a callous, reflexive Catholic with the proper petit-bourgeois background, weds a corrupt notable and black marketeer who extorts Jews during the war, and she eventually achieves wealth and status and gives birth to seven children. Jeanne, a penniless Jew who works as a maid in a bordello frequented by German soldiers, is ostracized and publicly humiliated, as a “disgrace to womanhood,” after the war despite her Resistance activities, and forced to abandon her child. Lavish descriptions are the author’s trademark. A mere couch will never surface in Roberts’s world: “the pink brocade sofas were fat and plush. Cosy armfuls you’d call them if they were girls. They lolled about the room sleepily, brazen and half-bare, their covering tasseled shawls, gypsy bright, slipped to the floor.” Mostly, Roberts’s polished, ornately wrought prose adds depth and a sense of acute realism to her captivating story—which flows seamlessly between the protagonists as they take turns narrating this accomplished and inspired novel of wartime France. Agent: Ayesha Karim, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Roberts’s polished, ornately wrought prose adds depth and a sense of acute realism to her captivating story—which flows seamlessly between the protagonists as they take turns narrating this accomplished and inspired novel of wartime France.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

From The Critics
“Roberts’s polished, ornately wrought prose adds depth and a sense of acute realism to her captivating story—which flows seamlessly between the protagonists as they take turns narrating this accomplished and inspired novel of wartime France.”—Publishers Weekly

 

Kirkus Reviews
This is a taut, unsentimental story of poverty and prejudice: two girls, one Catholic and the other a convert, grow up in a small town in Catholic France in the period before World War II. The war divides them from each other and their values. Roberts (The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene, 2007, etc.), Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, was made Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government. She has written works in multiple genres. In her latest novel, Jeanne and Marie-Angèle attend the convent school in Ste. Madeleine. Marie-Angèle is Catholic and daughter of a local shopkeeper. Jeanne is Jewish and poor. Her mother is a laundress. Though her mother converted, the change made no difference in their circumstances. The style is terse, clipped and idiosyncratic. The mind has almost no place in these characters' hard lives, except in the rudimentary plans for survival, and even these plans are directed towards body modification: The Jews dye their hair blond before preparing to flee. Surreal moments of great power arise from the crushing force the world exerts on characters unprepared, because it is impossible to be completely prepared. The forces of history are relentless, the conditions of poverty grinding. A worthy novel unusual for its tough-minded, unsparing story and the restrained method of its telling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608197712
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 1/22/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michèle Roberts is the author of twelve highly acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House, which won the WH Smith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Half English and half French, Roberts lives in London and in the Mayenne, France. She is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and was recently made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2014

    Ashrise

    Doesnt look back and runs to res three

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2013

    Patchkit

    Pads in

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