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Mariette in Ecstasy Paperback – Bargain Price, June 5, 1992

113 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

A novel about convent life at the turn of the century? Hardly the makings of a page-turner, yet Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy is a gripping, even life-changing book. For the Sisters of the Crucifixion, each day is a ceaseless round of work, study, and prayer--one hardly separate from the other. Their daily life is itself an act of devotion, caught here in a series of illuminated tableaux: hundreds of yellow butterflies alighting on eight gray habits, moving through a field; a sister praying as she "turns over a great slab of dough that rolls as slowly as a white pig"; nuns warming their hands on the flanks of horses, swinging scythes through timothy grass, crushing grapes with their feet.

Into this idyll comes Mariette--young, pretty, devout, but, as her father says, perhaps "too high-strung" for the convent. Prone to "trances, hallucinations, unnatural piety, great extremes of temperament, and, as he put it, 'inner wrenchings,'" Mariette scalds her hands with hot water as penance, threads barbed wire underneath her breasts while she sleeps, and is convinced Jesus speaks to her. Her very glamour disturbs the gentle rhythm of the nuns' lives. But when she begins bleeding from unexplained wounds in her hands, feet, and sides, the convent is thrown into an uproar. Is Mariette a saint? Or just a lying, hysterical girl? Where do we draw the line between madness and faith, mysticism and eroticism, the life of the spirit and that of the world?

It's to Hansen's credit that he never provides easy answers. Mariette's stigmata may or may not be genuine; the novel's achingly gorgeous prose is the true miracle here. Mariette in Ecstasy is a brief, precious book, not a single word in excess, not a single word left out. --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

In this quiet and forceful study of religious passion, Hansen ( The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ) places an extraordinary spiritual experience in the center of a deftly evoked natural world, namely, rural upstate New York just after the turn of the century. At summer's end, when she is 17, Mariette Baptiste, educated daughter of the local doctor, enters the cloistered convent of Our Lady of the Afflictions as a postulant. Her religious fervor, understated but determined, makes an impact on the small community of nuns whose days and nights are measured in a round of prayer and farm work changing only with the seasons. Their ordered life is disrupted, however, as Mariette begins to fall into a series of trances from which she awakens with stigmata, which heal as spontaneously as they appear. The feelings of skepticism, jealousy and adoration evoked in the nuns, Mariette's own response and that of the Mother Superior are delicately, indelibly drawn in Hansen's authoritative prose.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 5, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060981180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060981181
  • ASIN: B000A176MO
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,722,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on September 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Ron Hansen's MARIETTE IN ECTASY is yet another work that I have stumbled across (is there really such a thing as an accident...?) that will go onto my mental shelf of the finest books I've read. It's a testament to Hansen's imagination and writing skills that a story set in a convent in upstate New York in 1906 could be so compelling, so deeply moving, so filled with achingly crafted images that reveal everyday things in such a new light. The cloistered sisters, seen by outsiders as drab and similar in appearances, blossom in Hansen's hands as distinct individuals, their characters as varied and deeply developed as any in fiction. Their devotion, their hopes and fears, their humor, their emotions are all brought to life vividly -- and with the arrival of seventeen year-old Mariette into their midst as as aspiring postulant, everything about their lives changes.

Mariette -- blood sister of the current prioress -- is a very devout girl, given to episodes of ecstacy. Her father, a physician, decribes her as being perhaps 'too highly strung' for a religious calling. She is a naturally beautiful young woman -- and this fact alone arouses a bit of jealousy and suspicion among her sisters-to-be. As her ecstatic experiences increase in both frequency and occurrance, some of these suspicions deepen -- and we can see a veritable wall rise up dividing those in the order who love and adore her, taking her experiences as fact, and those who are certain that she is a charlatan, taking them all for a ride.

Which group is correct? The reader must come to this conclusion in his or her own way -- Hansen tells this story so wonderfully, leaving us to decide. He draws no firm, easy answers for us.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By BeachReader on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Each day is the same for the cloistered Sisters of the Crucifixion in the early 1900s in upstate New York. The nuns pray, work, study--day after day. Each nun has a specialty, a job that she does best: candlemaker, wine maker, cook, arts teacher, seamstress, gardener, etc.
The book begins as the lovely, elegant, 17-year-old Mariette enters the convent to begin her probationary/postulant period. She lived nearby with her widowed father, a doctor, and we later learn that her much-older sister is the prioress, Mother Celine. Mariette's father is very much opposed to her becoming a nun. In fact, he has written a letter stating all of the reasons that she is not suitable for convent life.
It seems that Mariette is adapting well to life in the convent until she begins falling into trances and emerges with bleeding wounds (stigmata) on various parts of her body, wounds that cannot be logically explained. The community of nuns becomes divided in their opinion of whether these are signs from God or self-inflicted by Mariette.
In this book, Hansen paints a complete picture of life in the convent and the doubts that assail all people of faith. His characterizations were very well done, in the sparsest of prose, yet in great detail. The book was beautifully and lovingly written and read almost like poetry rather than prose.
"Mariette in Ecstasy" provides an examination of faith and miraculous/divine happenings. Hansen also looks at the way these happenings impact those who are "blessed" by them, as well as how the communities around them are affected. Hansen draws no conclusions, makes no judgments, and attains no closure. This is left up to the reader after closing the book.
It is hard to believe that this is the same author who wrote "Atticus". Both books are excellent, but they are so very different.
I would highly recommend this book.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on May 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
We seem to mystify people who are slaves to their pleasures. we often work too hard and rest too little, our food is plain, our days are without variety, we have no possessions nor much privacy, we live uncomfortably with our vows of chastity and obedience; but God is present here and that makes this our heaven on earth. -Mother Superior to Mariette, Mariette in Ecstasy
In this spare novel Ron Hansen succeeds brilliantly at what must surely be one of the most difficult tasks for any writer : he makes the miraculous plausible. In so doing, he raises fascinating questions about how we would react to miracles, were we to witness them, and about why those miracles might occur.
In 1906, seventeen year old Mariette Baptiste enters an upstate New York convent, joining the order of The Sisters of the Crucifixion. Pretty, pious, and personable, she quickly becomes the darling of the place, even though these same traits, and the fact that the Mother Superior is her sister, inspire some jealousy and even forbidden lusts. Since her confirmation, at age thirteen, Mariette has had a calling and has heard the voice of Christ speaking to her, preparing her for some great events. So she, and some of the nuns who love her, are prepared when, upon the death of her sister, Mariette is afflicted with stigmata. But others, particularly those who have resented her anyway, are less willing to accept the miraculous nature of these happenings, suspecting Mariette of an attention-seeking hoax. And when the wounds are healed just as suddenly as they appeared, both sides see this as confirmation of their own, very divergent, beliefs.
Hansen recreates the atmosphere and daily life of the convent in convincing detail.
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