On Monday, May 24, 1999 at 8:32 p.m. precisely, Father Bertrand Beaulieu of the French Society of Casuists opens a thick, handwritten letter and makes a stunning discovery: "Six pages further, he was trembling. This time the proof was neither arithmetical, nor physical, nor esthetical, nor astronomical; it was irrefutable. The proof of God's existence had been achieved." One of the many delights in Laurence Cossé's darkly funny ecclesiastical thriller, A Corner of the Veil
, is the fact that the reader must accept the existence of this proof on faith. Though a handful of characters read the letter and are profoundly affected by it, Cossé holds her cards (and her proof) close to the vest; we never see it. In Father Beaulieu's mind, however, there's no doubt that what he has is the real magilla. He hurries to his friend Father Hervé Montgaroult, who, after explaining in detail and at length why it is impossible to prove the Almighty's existence, reads the proof himself and instantly falls into a beatific meditation on a world without doubt:
There would be no such thing as success any longer: Do the sea or the sky have success? No more failure: Does a tree know failure? No more hierarchy among men: Is the night superior to the river?
Bertrand and Hervé bring the letter to their superior, Father Hubert Le Dangeolet, who refuses to actually read the thing and tells them to keep it absolutely secret until he can figure out what to do with it. Unfortunately, in a moment of bliss, Hervé has already revealed the monumental news to his sister, who happens to be married to a high-ranking official in the French government. Soon, word of it reaches the Prime Minister and before long the entire French cabinet is involved. Once politicians involve themselves in this momentous event, A Corner of the Veil
really takes off--and Cossé demonstrates that elected officials are not the only political animals to reckon with. As the author pits priest against priest and pol against pol in a life-and-death struggle over the ultimate fate of the proof, God gets lost (literally) in the shuffle. By the end of this provocative, literary page-turner, you'll be wondering if it's the Almighty or the Devil pulling the strings. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
This droll, paradoxical novel of theological manners, a bestseller and prize-nominee in France, is both provocative and thoroughly delightful. Father Bertrand Beaulieu, a member of a Jesuit-like order called the "Society of Casuits," opens a letter from a crank, a fellow who has already bombarded Beaulieu with numerous proofs of God's existence, all of them flawed. This one, however, demonstrates God's existence irrefutably in a mere six pages. Beaulieu is literally floored; when he recovers from his prostration, he rushes to show the letter to Father Herv? Montgaroult, who has the curious job of refuting all philosophical proofs of God. After reading this unquestionable one, Montgaroult finds himself in a state of bliss, wandering the streets of Paris. The two fathers take the proof to their superior, Hubert Le Dangeolet, who doesn't read the paper himself, but locks it in his safe. Dangeolet realizes in a flash that this proof means, potentially, the end of the order. As he explains to his superior, Father Waldenberg, "We can't have our whole Casuist province in France slipping into a way of life that is positively Franciscan, and the ecstatic branch at that." In a series of comical plot twists, the news keeps leaking out, to a select few, of course. The French prime minister, Petitgrand, demands to see the proof and is apparently so overwhelmed that he announces to his cabinet the coming reign of love. This news properly horrifies the ministers of justice, interior and economics, who see the whole structure of greed and aggressionAthe linchpins of modern societyAcollapsing. Not to speak of their jobs. Cosse falters a bit in finally summarizing the proof. Still, with tight, clever and confident prose, this novel performs a bit of a miracle itself by turning theology into farce.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.