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Mariette in Ecstasy Paperback – Bargain Price, June 5, 1992
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The Amazon Book Review
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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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Seventeen year-old Mariette Baptiste enters the convent as a postulant to become a nun following in the steps of her blood sister Annette who is known as Mother Superior Celine. Mariette is pious, virtuous, and very pretty, which garners her general approval. As months pass by, Mariette integrates fully to the religious life, but soon after her first three months are up, tragedy strikes and Mariette starts experiencing preternatural phenomena such as having the injuries of Christ during the Crucifixion, otherwise known as stigmata...But is Mariette's ecstasy real or the product of a disturbed mind?
I liked Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. The book is written beautifully, but in a non-traditional style, integrating descriptive passages with inquiries about the true nature of Mariette's experience as seen and understood by members of her religious order. I happen to think that Mariette's ecstasy was real even when I had moments of doubt. I understood completely the attitude of her convent mates towards her: some were in awe, infatuated even, while others felt envious and repelled.
Mariette in Ecstasy doesn't have a happy ending, at least a conventional one as we would like. It is the worst of human nature that prevails here as so often happens.
In summary, Mariette in Ecstasy is beautifully written if a little unconventional both in style and in topic, but the reader will be better off after immersing in Mariette's experience.
The prose is just gorgeous. Simplistic, heartfelt, and amazing. Easy answers aren't provided, which may frustrate some readers but which I felt was a good choice on the part of the author. Even though it is short, the characters are as well-fleshed-out as a book of this type could make them, and the motivations behind each of their actions are some things I still think about. This book will make you review your own passions and moralities in life, but in a good way. Absolutely worth a read.
The language is simple, beautiful, and perfect. For example, "Blood scribbles down her wrists and ankles and scrawls like red handwriting on the floor." This is one of many such examples, whether the author is writing about his flesh-and-blood, pious, but oh so complex characters, the wonders of nature, or religious rituals and feast days. All are beautifully woven together in this tapestry.
One of my favorite features, at the beginning of the book, was the chart that introduced all the sisters, along with their job titles and their ages, and a timetable of winter life, from rising to the Great Silence. My other favorite comes at the end: the last paragraph, from one of Mariette's letters, brought me to tears. Oh, yes, then there is everything in between.
For those not yet familiar with Ron Hansen's work, I would recommend this book, along with Atticus, and A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion. All are so different, yet equally worthwhile. There is a world of difference between Mariette and A Wild Surge..., but that only proves the scope of the author's talent.
Another line from the book is as follows: "May they renew and strengthen their souls by good actions." Mariette in Estasy will strengthen your soul...and mind...and heart. It is a blessing.