I came across this book via a recommendation on Amazon, based on previous purchases of historical fiction, and I loved the cover, but this tale is not like regular historical fiction, really.
It is set in Devon in the mid 1300’s during a time of plague, and tells the story of three people: a woman outrunning the plague and her past who pretends to be an idiot, the priest who sees her as the holy fool who will save them from the plague, and his housekeeper who longs for love. What makes it irregular is the way the story unfolds. It’s not really about history but about survival and what it means to really live.
Vixen, the name given to the girl who outruns the plague, is quite mystical in that she speaks to death and to the forest, for example, as people. She is also a clearly defined character, but one who sees herself as having no true identity. She chooses not to let herself feel, as a means of survival, but as you can imagine, this is not sustainable. She’s a fascinating character, and it’s great to watch her unfold as you learn more about her.
Anne, the priest’s housekeeper, is initially given to him by her parents with the understanding that she will be his common law wife. This is what she wants, and she is humiliated by his rejection at first, but her need to love something is satisfied when Vixen, whom the priest calls the Maid, is presented to her as an idiot who needs healing and protection. Their relationship soon develops into much more, as she realises that there is more to the girl, and blossoms in a way that is both heartwarming and healing for Anne.
Finally, the man of God, Thomas. He’s well drawn, and can be funny or awful depending. He’s obsessed with the idea that the Maid, as he sees her, is a holy fool sent to protect the village from the plague, and is blind to all evidence to the contrary. He sees both women as his property and is jealous of the bond between them. As his career has not born fruit and he sublimates his sexual urges in control and domination, his life spirals out of control.
In essence, you’ll love to hate him and want the girls to find a way to escape and live a happy life, but it’s the journey that the three undertake individually to find what’s real, if they can let down barriers and be their true selves, love truly… It’s a really beautifully told story with poetic prose.
Read It If: You like female authors of historical fiction, or if you like a little more poetry and life lessons in your stories. I found this book quite moving.