From Publishers Weekly
Harrison pens an impressionistic biography of "the little flower," the beloved French saint Therese of Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. Harrison suggests that a more accurate term might be "the little nettle," since the 19th-century saint's legacy is not just sentimental but also stinging. The much-petted youngest child in a close-knit, pious French family, Therese was just four and a half when she lost her mother to breast cancer, a void she filled with her four older sisters as well as visions of the Holy Mother. The precocious and sickly Therese received a special papal dispensation to enter the cloister at the tender age of 15. (Initially refused by both the Mother Superior and her local bishop, Therese overrode their authority and went straight to the pope.) This is no hagiography; Harrison can be quite critical of the cosseted and self-righteous young Therese, whom she finds to be "at once girlishly naive and infuriatingly self-important." It also sometimes veers too far in the direction of psychobiography, with Harrison dwelling on what she calls Therese's repressed sexuality and the emotional nature of her early illnesses. Readers may disagree with Harrison's interpretations, but few could quibble with her writing style, which is simply gorgeous. Her prose sings like the novels she is known for (Thicker Than Water; Poison; Seeking Rapture), and the biography reads like a particularly juicy novella.
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The latest entry in the excellent Penguin Life series is a reexamination of the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Canonized in 1925, only 28 years after her death in 1897 at the age of 24, Therese is one of only three women recognized by the Vatican as a Doctor of the Church. Though her life was brief, her influence was far-reaching, owing to her best-selling autobiographical legacy, Story of a Soul
. Published after her death, this popular account of her spiritual life established the "Little Flower" as a bona fide religious icon. Best-selling novelist and memoirist Harrison places Therese's story firmly into historical, cultural, and psychological context. Although her portrayal of this complex and headstrong young woman is not always flattering, it never fails to be less than fascinating. Separating the flesh and blood Therese from the sentimentalized holy-card version, Harrison provides an intriguing, multifaceted portrait of a flawed human being destined for sainthood. Margaret FlanaganCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved