read by Anna Fields
I selected this audiobook for my university library's collection over five years ago, first listened to it three years ago, and finally had a chance to listen to it again recently and (at last) write about it.
This historical fiction is based on the real priest Bérenger Saunière, who takes over the parish of the small town of Rennes-le-Château in France in 1885. He becomes inexplicably wealthy while renovating the church. Author Amy Hassinger explores the theories that he found historical treasure, but also incorporates the more mundane possibility that he got rich through simple fraud.
Saunière's story is told in first person by his housekeeper (and some say lover, nicknamed "the priest's madonna" in the village), Marie Dénarnaud. For me, the most interesting parts of this book were the intriguing theological arguments between Marie and Bérenger - and, of course the obvious sexual tension. (Every Catholic schoolgirl has had a Father What-a-Waste in her life.)
Intertwined with the story of Marie and Bérenger is that of Mary Magdalene and Jesus - here referred to by their Hebrew names of Miryam and Yeshua. The little church in Rennes-le-Château is named for the saint, and a subplot involves the town's mayor's wife, Madame Simone Laporte, a Jew who may be descended from a child of Jesus and "the Madeleine." That plot hints that there might have been a physical relationship between the two.
The eye-catching cover artwork incorporates an 1824 painting by French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix I imagined this to be Marie, and indeed, it looks like a photograph of her.
Sadly, the print version of this book is out-of-print and difficult to find - otherwise, I might recommend it for book clubs. The audiobook is still sold, and it is a gem. The late Anna Fields is outstanding as a narrator. She pronounces the difficult French and Hebrew proper and place names with ease. Listen & Live Audio's production includes romantic strumming guitars at the beginning of chapters narrated by Marie, and exotic woodwinds and tambourines playing at the start of the Mary Magdalene interludes. The auhtor's explanatory note (where she highlights some of her sources) is included in the audiobook, but the acknowledgements and glossaries (Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic and French/Occitan) are not.
© Amanda Pape - 2012
[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library. A print copy for reference was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]