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In the Company of Angels: A Novel Hardcover – April 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786866667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786866663
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,911,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in France during World War II, Kelby's debut novel is a luminous, harrowing tale of wartime horrors and miracles. When seven-year-old Marie Claire's village in France is bombed by the Germans, she survives by burying herself in the root cellar of her grandmother's house. Days later, Anne and Mother Xavier, two Belgian nuns working for the Resistance, rescue her and take her to their convent, near a town in which odd visions and minor miracles are everyday occurrences. Upon her arrival, even stranger things begin to happen: the girl gives off an odor of roses; light seems to emanate from her body; bruises emerge on her flesh. Intertwined with Marie Claire's story is the tale of a Nazi commander's doomed romance with Anne, and Mother Xavier's struggle to come to terms with the fact that her parents have been performing scientific experiments for the Germans. Striking, clear images give the novel a surreal cast: a room filled with doves; ants crawling over the hands of Anne's father, a chocolate maker, as he sits in the ruins of his bombed shop; or Marie Claire's feverish dream in which a mask maker who was her friend in life conducts a macabre puppet show beneath the destroyed village. Such flashes of sensual detail are made even more poignant when contrasted with the atrocities of the war, and Kelby's spare, elliptical prose effectively brings these moments to light, infusing the emotionally and spiritually loaded subject matter with an uncommon intimacy. Saints and Nazis may make strange bedfellows, but Kelby rises to the challenge with considerable command in a haunting debut that erodes the distinctions between waking and dreaming, faith and reason, life and death. Agent, Jo Fagan. (Apr. 4)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Delicate and operatic, In the Company of Angels reminds me of no one so much as Michael Ondaatje . . ." -- Stewart O'Nan, author of A World Away and A Prayer for the Dying

"Kelby makes her novel debut with a religious fable that will move some greatly...a skillful harvest of symbols." -- Kirkus

"Kelby weaves in and out of several character's heads, seamlessly melding fantasy and reality to create a seductive hallucinatory effect." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"Kelby's...fairy tale exerts a subtle pull...the author suddenly stares unblinkingly into one corner of the heart of darkness." -- Entertainment Weekly

"N. M. Kelby has woven a lush tapestry of innocence and evil on a sturdy loom of miracles . . ." -- Faith Sullivan, author of What a Woman Must Do

"[An] impressive debut . . . Kelby . . . displays a rarefied sense of craft throughout this meticulously constructed novel." -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

This remarkable debut novel... Kelby's lovely language fuses sensuous specificity with metaphoric resonance -- New York Times Book, May 6, 2001

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 17 customer reviews
I look forward to reading her next novel.
Carol Davis Luce
The author's style is a gently flowing stream of images.
Larry L. Looney
This is quite a debut - an elegant novel.
M.J. Rose

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
"In the Company of Angels" is a lush and beautiful novel. It is hypnotic and evocative, gorgeous and harrowing. It is certainly one of the very best books I've read in a long, long time.
Marie Claire is a small French Jewish girl who lives with her grandmother in a Belgian village near the border of France. In fact, Tournai was once a part of France, itself, and its ties to Christianity are strong. As Kelby so lyrically writes, "Conquered by the French, it was thought more beautiful than Paris. Conquered by the English, it was the favored city of King Henry the Eighth. It was also a city of God, or so it was said." Certainly the people of Tournai see God. They see Him in their prayers and they see Him in the everyday stuff of life: The baker sees God in a cherry tart, the barber sees the Virgin's face on the floor of his shop and the butcher finds a small cross in the belly of a lamb. Yet, the people of Tournai are not happy; they feel that somehow, for some unknown reason, God has deserted their beautiful and loving village.
Marie Claire's grandmother was known for her beautiful garden and cultivating flowers was her hobby. In fact, she names a rare black iris in Marie Claire's honor, because the little girl's hair is so very black. Marie Claire, like generations of the Durrieu family before her, lives a life that is as deeply rooted in the soil as are the beautiful flowers she is learning to tend. When World War II encroached upon their village, however, Marie Claire finds that her world is shattered.
Two Belgian nuns, a Mother Superior and a young postulant, find Marie Claire hiding in the root cellar and they take her to their convent.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By E Heginbotham on February 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"In times of war, the line between 'what is' and 'what is no longer' becomes confused," says the omniscient and poetic narrator of the future award winning first novel of N. M. Kelby. The smell and texture of fine chocolate, the oddity of black irises, the stench of smoke, the roar of war planes convey a heady realism, but something much stronger pulls us into this world of the bell-laden city of Tournai, Belgium during the horrible years toward the end of the war. "In times of war, logic no longer applies." What does apply and miraculously survive are various human loves (nuns for God and for each other; a man and a woman who should be bitter enemies; a community for its few survivors) and the mysterious ways of God (light shining from the palms of a beautiful traumatized child, perhaps an angel; doves fluttering from napkins; an elderly German nun, dead, meeting her parents in their field; a beautiful red headed woman who, angelic herself for all her rich corporality and love of chocolate, claims to have "saved an angel of God," a Jewish child ("How can she be an angel of God?". . ."That is the question you must ask yourself," she answers). And that is but one question the reader must ask too. The slim, gripping novel begs us: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on December 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the most amazing, uplifting books I've had the pleasure to read in the last few years. The book is extremely dreamlike and very cinematic -- in the hands of a sensitive director, this would make a memorable, extraordinary film.
Marie Claire is a seven year-old Jewish girl, living in a small village in France, near the Belgian border. The time is World War II. She is an orphan -- she was forced to watch as the Nazis stood her parents in the village fountain and shot them, their blood flowing over and over through the fountain for all to see. Marie Claire is being raised by her grandmother, who breeds beautiful hybrid roses and irises. Her village is bombed, destroying almost everything, and killing everyone except this amazing child. She returns to the ruins of her grandmother's home and hides herself in the cellar, covering herself up to her neck with dirt, afraid of being discovered by the Nazis. After several days, she is found by two nuns from a convent just across the border in Belgium, who have come in search of survivors. They are amazed to find her alive -- and they are puzzled by many things about her, including the ever-present scent of roses. When they take her back with them to their convent, miracles begin to occur, centered around the young girl. At first the sisters think they are imagining things -- but as events transpire and unfold, they come to believe that 'the child saved is an angel of God', a prophecy told by the mother of one of the nuns.
The author's style is a gently flowing stream of images. She uses an incredible economy of words to convey so much in this wonderful first novel.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
IN THE COMPANY OF ANGELS is a gorgeously written and moving meditation on the transcendant power of love and faith. The language is exquisite and reads like poetry. Comparisons to Anne Michaels' FUGITIVE PIECES come to mind, but I think Kelby is better and her work rings truer. Kelby marries Jewish and Catholic mysticism in a narrative steeped in magical realism. However, unlike the prose of Latin American magical realists such as Marquez and Isabel Allende, Kelby's prose often seems a little too ethereal and not quite grounded enough. Some readers may also find the book a touch too sentimental and melodramatic in places. Many highly charged scenes loaded with pyrotechnics and special effects (a nun setting fire to herself, a woman wrapping rose thorns around her breasts) pile up on top of each other, possibly overwhelming the reader and ultimately taking the power away from these scenes. If Anne appears to be weeping on nearly every page, then what power can these tears have on the reader? The German Commander (although a major player, he isn't given a name) appears as a stock character. However, this is a brave and risk-taking book and the author deserves credit for her vision and courage. The ending is absolutely sublime.
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