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Strange Isles, Sonorous River

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Length: 319 pages4 hours

Summary

Strange Isles, Sonorous River, is a novel inspired by a real occurrence in the south of France in the 1950’s, when an entire village experienced an inexplicable outbreak of physical and psychological disorders: normal men, women and children, gradually become psychotic as they experience horrific hallucinations, seemingly endless insomnia, and death.

An American writer, Damon Cristann, who, after wandering aimlessly about Europe for years, returns to Provence,’ in the south of France, in an attempt to recover his creativity in a place he once loved. He arrives, not only to find love with the mysterious sister-in-law of his publisher, Lydia Lazare, but find he has arrived just as the small French town of St. Martin descends into a mysterious medieval madness. Men, women and children, gradually become psychotic as the "plague" is discovered to be caused by the bread of the village bakeries. Hundreds of insomniacs wander the ancient, narrow streets of St. Martin, night after night, as the town gradually goes mad. All the characters, each wounded by some senseless tragedy in the past, confront again their suffering, trying to find meaning, each in his, or her, own way, including the atheist town doctor, Rousseau, who confronts the scholarly parish priest, Pere Jurrard, in the climatic scenes of the novel. The tragedy is played out against the backdrop of a region which was the crucible of the Cathar heresy-an attempt to explain suffering in the world in the 12th Century- the beginning of the Inquisition, and the slaughter of tens of thousands of Cathars by the "crusaders" from Rome.

The title of the novel originates from the poem, and the spiritual interpretation of the poem, a “Spiritual Canticle,” by St. John of the Cross, confessor to St. Teresa of Avila, and author of the phrase and concept, the “dark night of the soul.”

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