It's been weeks since I finished t his magnificently strange book and it still won't unhand me. It's a short read that I found myself dragging out so that I might enjoy the trickle of the story. It was sensorially electric, like walking through a market full of flowers and raw meat.
Martine Desjardins delivers to readers of Maleficium the unexpurgated revelations of Vicar Jerome Savoie, a heretic priest in nineteenth century Montreal. Braving threats from the Catholic Church, Savoie dares to violate the sanctity of the confessional in this confession-within-a-confession, in which seven penitents, each afflicted with a debilitating malady or struck with a crippling deformity, relates his encounter with an enigmatic young woman whose lips bear a striking scar. As these men penetrate deep into the exotic Orient, each falls victim to his own secret vice. One treks through Ethiopia in search of wingless locusts. Another hunts for fly-whisks among the clove plantations of Zanzibar. Yet others bargain for saffron in a Srinagar bazaar, search for the rarest frankincense, and pursue the coveted hawksbill turtle in the Sea of Oman. Two more seek the formula for sabon Nablus in Palestine or haggle over Persian carpets in the royal gardens of Shiraz. The men's individual forms of punishment, revealed through the agency of the young woman, are wrought upon their bodies. Baroque in its complexity, Kafka-like in its inexorable mechanics, Maleficium by turns astonishes, amuses, and beguiles. Then author Martine Desjardins's Vicar Savoie--as in any confession worth its communion wafer--saves the best (or worst) for last. Maleficium won the Prix Jacques Brossard and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award (French Fiction), the Prix des libraires du Quebec, the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie, and the Prix France-Quebec.
About the Author
Martine Desjardins was born in the Town of Mount Royal in Quebec in 1957. The second child of six, she started writing short stories when she was seventeen. After receiving a bachelor's degree in Russian and Italian studies at the University of Montreal, she went on to complete a master's degree in comparative literature, exploring humor in Dostoevsky's The Devils. She worked as an assistant editor-in-chief at ELLE Quebec magazine for four years before leaving to devote herself to writing. Presently she works as a freelance writer, translator, and journalist for L'actualite, an award-winning French-language current affairs magazine in Canada. Desjardins currently lives in the Town of Mount Royal with her husband. In her free time, she paints miniature models of ruins overgrown with vegetation. A three-time winner of the Governor General's Award for translation, plus a nomination in 2009 for his translation of Thierry Hentsch's Le temps aboli, Empire of Desire, Fred A. Reed has translated works by many of Quebec's leading authors, several in collaboration with novelist David Homel, as well as by Nikos Kazantzakis and other modern Greek writers. Reed worked with documentarist Jean-Daniel Lafond on two documentary films: Salam Iran, a Persian Letter and American Fugitive. The two later collaborated on Conversations in Tehran (Talonbooks, 2006). Fred A. Reed resides in Montreal. Award-winning author and literary translator David Homel also works as a journalist, editor, and screenwriter. He was born in Chicago in 1952 but left at the end of the tumultuous 1960s and continued his education in Europe and Toronto before settling in Montreal in around 1980. He worked at a variety of industrial jobs before beginning to write fiction in the mid-1980s. His six novels to date have been translated into several languages and published around the world.
"Magnificent blasphemy; a whiff of scandal."Pascale Millot, Montréal centre-ville
"The world that Martine Desjardins presents with such admirable skill in Maleficium is inhabited by fear and desire, and its reality has unsuspected depths. With its surprises, exotic voyages, and shimmering descriptions, this book is a pure pleasure to read."Canada Council for the Arts