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Maleficium

by Martine Desjardins, translated by Fred A. Reed & David Homel

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0 ratings
rated!
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list price: $14.95
edition:Paperback
category: Fiction
published: Apr 2012
ISBN:9780889226807
publisher: Talonbooks
Description

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 violates the sanctity of the confessional in a confession-within-a-confession, in which seven penitents, each a?icted 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 sa?ron 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.

About the Authors
Martine Desjardins
Born in the Town of Mount Royal in Quebec, Martine Desjardins worked as an assistant editor-in-chief at ELLE Québec magazine for four years before leaving to devote herself to writing. Presently she works as a free-lance rewriter, translator and journalist for L’actualité, an award-winning French-language current affairs magazine in Canada. Her first novel, Le cercle de Clara was published by Leméac in 1997, and was nominated for both the Prix littéraires du Québec and the Grand prix des lectrices Elle Québec in 1998. It has been published by Talonbooks in English as Fairy Ring.

Fred A. Reed
International journalist and award-winning literary translator Fred A. Reed is also a respected specialist on politics and religion in the Middle East. After several years as a librarian and trade union activist at the Montreal Gazette, Reed began reporting from Islamic Iran in 1984, visiting the Islamic Republic thirty times since then. He has also reported extensively on Middle Eastern affairs for La Presse, CBC Radio-Canada and Le Devoir. Reed is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation.

David Homel
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.
Author profile page >

Fred A. Reed
International journalist and award-winning literary translator Fred A. Reed is also a respected specialist on politics and religion in the Middle East. After several years as a librarian and trade union activist at the Montreal Gazette, Reed began reporting from Islamic Iran in 1984, visiting the Islamic Republic 30 times since then. He has also reported extensively on Middle Eastern affairs for La Presse, CBC Radio-Canada and Le Devoir. Reed is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation.
Author profile page >

Fred A. Reed
International journalist and award-winning literary translator Fred A. Reed is also a respected specialist on politics and religion in the Middle East. After several years as a librarian and trade union activist at the Montreal Gazette, Reed began reporting from Islamic Iran in 1984, visiting the Islamic Republic 30 times since then. He has also reported extensively on Middle Eastern affairs for La Presse, CBC Radio-Canada and Le Devoir. Reed is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation.
Author profile page >
Contributor Notes

Martine Desjardins
Born in the Town of Mount Royal in Quebec, Martine Desjardins worked as an assistant editor-in-chief at ELLE Québec magazine for four years before leaving to devote herself to writing. Presently she works as a free-lance rewriter, translator and journalist for L’actualité, an award-winning French-language current affairs magazine in Canada. Her first novel, Le cercle de Clara was published by Leméac in 1997, and was nominated for both the Prix littéraires du Québec and the Grand prix des lectrices Elle Québec in 1998. It has been published by Talonbooks in English as Fairy Ring.

Fred A. Reed
International journalist and award-winning literary translator Fred A. Reed is also a respected specialist on politics and religion in the Middle East. After several years as a librarian and trade union activist at the Montreal Gazette, Reed began reporting from Islamic Iran in 1984, visiting the Islamic Republic thirty times since then. He has also reported extensively on Middle Eastern affairs for La Presse, CBC Radio-Canada and Le Devoir. Reed is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation.

David Homel
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.

Awards
  • Winner, Sunburst Award
  • , Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie
  • Short-listed, Prix des libraires du Québec
  • Short-listed, Prix France–Québec
  • Winner, Prix Jacques Brossard
  • Short-listed, Governor General’s Literary Award (French Fiction)
Editorial Reviews

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.

— belletrista

Maleficium

 

by Martine Desjardins; Fred A. Reed and David Homel, trans.

Questions of memory and truth also take centre stage in Quebec author Martine Desjardins’s fourth book, Maleficium. Another translation from the French, with a plot that shuttles between Montreal and the other side of the world, Maleficium plays on personal histories and takes an adventurous turn toward the bizarre.

Framed as an early-20th-century vicar’s true account, the book consists of monologues from seven men, each of whom confesses a separate encounter with the same bewitching, scar-faced woman during his travels abroad. The woman – who alternates as a governess, a photographer, and a mystic – inevitably attracts each man by offering some essential assistance in his quest for profit or glory.

All seven confessions take the reader to exotic locales with richly wrought surroundings. A search for rare red saffron in Kashmir or the pursuit of a dangerous locust swarm on the Arabian Peninsula, for instance, set the stage for engrossing tales shot through with mythical qualities.

A creative focus on the carnal runs throughout the narratives as each man comes to covet some fantastical aspect of the woman’s body: the tail-like curve of her back, her perfectly helical ears, the golden scales that pour like tears from her eyes. Quirkiness abounds as each man goes to extreme lengths to possess what he desires.

What begins as a rich and original story, however, begins to feel formulaic when it becomes clear that every monologue follows the same pattern. All seven men are similar, their voices largely indistinct.

Despite the repetitiveness, Maleficium’s momentum is saved by the suspense surrounding each sinner’s obscure (and unique) fate. The woman curses each character with a peculiar bodily affliction, and because the narrative places readers in the vicar’s position, we are allowed the satisfaction of judging the appropriateness of each punishment.

Overall, the collection of confessions takes a deliciously strange approach to remembering and retelling the past. In an unexpected twist near the end, an eighth perspective adds compelling backstory and transports readers to new terrain altogether.

— www.quillandquire.com

OTHER LOSSES: AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE MASS DEATHS OF GERMAN PRISONERS AT THE HANDS OF THE FRENCH AND AMERICANS AFTER WORLD WAR II by James Bacque.
Toronto: Stoddart, 1989, hardbound, 248 pages, bibliography, index, photographs, $26.95. ISBN: 0-7737-2269-6.

 

The closing months of World War II, well after German military personnel knew that thev had lost the war.witnessed some of the most bitter resistance put up by the Wehrmacht. The soldiers of the Reich fought desperately against the advancing Red Army in an effort to permit as many civilians and soldiers as possible to flee to the West. Although the policy of "Unconditional Surrender" had been announced two years before, the Germans hoped that the Western allies would not treat their prisoners as brutally as the Russians were likely to.

 

What actually befell the German POWs has been succinctly stated by Col. Ernest F. Fisher, a former senior historian with the United States Army, in the foreword to James Bacque's explosive new book, Other Losses:

 

More than five million German soldiers in the American and French zones were crowded into barbed wire cages, many of them literally shoulder to shoulder. The ground beneath them soon became a quagmire of filth and disease. Open to the weather, lacking even primitive sanitary facilities, underfed, the prisoners soon began dying of starvation and disease. Starting in April 1945, the United States Army and the French Army casually annihilated about one million men, most of them in American camps.

 

Although hundreds of books have been written about the end of the Third Reich, including biographies of the major Allied political and military figures, this especially ugly chapter in the history of the Second World War came to light over 40 years after the war concluded. And it took a Canadian novelist to stumble across, then organize, the pertinent evidence, not an academic historian or one of the Armed Forces staff writers. In 1986, James Bacque was doing research for what was intended to be his first non-fiction work, a book on a hero of the French Resistance, Raoul Laporterie. Bacque interviewed a former German POW, who credited Laporterie with saving his life. The POW went on to note that in just one month, 25 per cent of his comrades had died while in French captivity. This set Bacque on a new trail. The results of his careful investigation is the work under consideration here. The term "Other Losses" was used in the U.S. Army "Weekly Prisoner of War & Disarmed Enemy Forces Reports," to cover deaths and escapes. U.S. Army officials have admitted that escapes accounted for less than 2 per cent of these "other" losses. The rest died. After sifting though U.S. Army files stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where he was assisted by Col. Fisher, as well as relevant Canadian, British, and French records, Bacque has come to the conclusion that:

 

… enormous numbers of men of all ages, plus some women and children, died of exposure, unsanitary conditions, disease and starvation in the American and French camps in Germany and France … The victims undoubtedly number over 800,000, almost certainly over 900,000 and quite likely over a million. Their deaths were knowingly caused by army officers who had sufficient resources to keep the prisoners alive.

 

Bacque's research indicates that Germans who surrendered to the British or Canadians shared a different fate from that of the Germans in American, French, or Soviet hands when the war ended. The Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, early on issued a protest to the American authorities - which was ignored. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who had no love for the Germans, seemed to reflect the views of many British, when he remarked:

 

"I hold no brief for the Germans except humane treatment … I do not think we should provide a ration less than Belsen."

 

Under the Geneva convention, German prisoners should have received adequate food, shelter, and medical attention. As the war-time records disclose, food and other needed supplies were available in abundance in the Western occupation zones. But thousands of POWs were kept for months in wire cages with little food and virtually no shelter.

 

By arbitrarily classifying their captives as "Disarmed Enemy Forces" rather than "prisoners of war," American military authorities were able to keep the Red Cross from monitoring conditions in the holding pens and to prevent the IRC from delivering surplus food and supplies to the German POWs. Train loads of provisions were actually turned away.

 

Since SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) imposed stricter censorship after VE- Day than during the war, the general American public was largely kept ignorant of conditions prevailing in post-war Europe (opinion polls clearly indicated that, despite years of propaganda, the American public did not favor a vengeful peace).

 

When rumors began to circulate about the treatment received by prisoners in some of the camps, the French stated that the POWs were well treated. The American authorities planted stories in the New York Times blaming the French. Later, both the French and Americans denied having as many prisoners as they actually had captured. They said that missing soldiers were undergoing Soviet captivity (the existing U.S. records put paid to this lie).

 

Who was responsible for these crimes? Bacque blames the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as General Charles De Gaulle. Ike is portrayed as the architect of the policy, which resulted in "slow deaths," since it was he who implemented general directives that originated with Franklin Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau. Care of the POWs was among Eisenhower's official responsibilities. The author presents evidence that Ike knew what was going on and took active measures to reduce rations and prevent other necessities from reaching German detainees. As stated above, many prisoners were reclassified as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEFs). They remained in captivity. But since they were no longer recognized as POWs, their treatment was not conditioned by provisions of the Geneva Convention.

 

Bacque's detective work has resulted in what amounts to a terrible indictment of U.S. and French policy. Professor Stephen E. Ambrose, an Eisenhower biographer and editor of his official papers, admits that Bacque "has made an important discovery."

 

Yet, Other Losses, for several months now a best-seller in Canada and Germany, has been rejected by over thirty publishers in this country. It is currently available only by mail from the IHR and to those who are able to visit Canada.

 

Bacque's book, and the reception it has been accorded in the United States, raises a number of questions. It highlights the failure of international law to protect combatants and non- combatants, alike. And it shows the consequences of over thirty years of anti-German propaganda, dating from before the outbreak of World War I. The "German as Beast" was a familiar theme and if Eisenhower and his associates had little regard for the Germans, they were reflecting views nurtured by the Allies during both world wars.

 

Bacque, who is not an academic historian, has embarrassed the Establishment here. His book reflects the low state of academic and officer government history in this country. Anfl the fact that he can't find a U.S. publisher is another example of how censorship works in "the land of the free and the home of the brave." His book has not been banned. Like other important works that deal with what James J. Martin characterizes as "inconvenient history," Other Losses simply has not been printed. After all, you don't have to go to the trouble of "banning" what never gets into print in the first place.

 

Other Losses is a fine example of historical investigation, which also serves as a reminder of what sort of country Americans really live in.

 

Source: Reprinted from - The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 227-231.

— The Complete Review (www.complete-review.com)

— www.shelf-awareness.com

— www.mtlreviewofbooks.ca

MaleFicium Martin Desjardins Translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel Talonbooks ($14.95)

By Spencer Dew

Hell, in the broader Western tradition, or a state that depends upon the physical senses, the nerve networks of the body. Hell without pain is abstract at best; hell without biological desires – hungers, thirsts, the longing for rest – likewise lacks teeth as a concept. The hells we know from the great Western accounts have harsh smells, stagnant waters, air thick with bitter gas, and they are places characterized, foremost, by hyperbolic reversals both of known reality – lakes of liquid flame, flesh that bubbles back and burn without being fully consumed – and poetic twists on sensual needs and sensual desires: women who sinned with their loins must endure new and horrific penetrations; those who committed evil with their tongues have their tongues stretched and split and tortured. Martin Desjardins dips into this tradition, spinning a series of Orientalist-tinged tales, each told as a confession to a harried priest, confession of sins linked to the titillating dangers of the senses. Exotic, far-flung locales are invoked, each featuring a women with a harelip, that mark of the devil, each playing to flaws in the listening priest’s own character, his own vanities and lusts, the little ornaments he clings to, the glances he casts at the tight-skirted hips of parishioners as they leave mass. These pages are rich with the scent of De Quincey and Huysman as well as Dejardins’s own original incenses and perfumes – one milked from a secret, genital-based stigmata, for instance. Heresies abound, along with missionaries terrified or turned, scientists who clutch their tattered rationality like a rosary, The line between infestation and plague is a line Dejardins well knows is deliciously pleasurable to fine, even if it leaves us raw, aching, or worse. These are the tales of pleasures removed, that traditional dynamic of hell: sample an incomparable delight, then have your ability to experience such delight stripped, cruelly but justifiably, away. The bodies of those who confess are marked, just as the bodies of those they lust for – those who lead them into sin and obsession – are marked, not merely by the harelip but by a reptilian tail, say, or glands that give birth to rare oils, “lachrymal glands [that secrete] a substance that solidified when exposed to sunlight, and formed scaly tears.” The world here is both exotic and toxic, moored in intricate craft and material culture. The soap-making tradition of Nablus, for instance, or the industry of collecting medallions from hawksbill turtle shell, provides fodder for some of Desjardins’s most seductive prose. Though Desjardins is equally good at describing the seductive sigh of a carpet woven of women’s hair, the cruel glee of watching caged monkeys fight of petits four crumbs, or the biology of cholera and how the whip-tailed microbe fares best under certain hyperbolically unhygienic conditions:

The villages worst affected by cholera were inhabited by former Wahadimu slaves whose sole means of subsistence is making rope from coconut fiber. Their huts stand in the midst of open-air cesspools filled with stagnant water, where coconut shells are left to macerate for months before their fibers are supple enough to be woven. These filthy cloacae provided the incubator in which flies in their legions would lay their eggs. In veritable clouds they hovered over the villages, dragging their legs throughexcreta and depositing the disease wherever they alighted. They were so numerous, and their buzzing so deafening, that it was impossible for me to work.

How much more delicious, then – delicious in the diabolical sense, perhaps, like the irresistible urge to work a loose tooth with one’s tongue or to pick at the edges of a scabbing wound – is the detailed explanation, a few pages later, of the best sort of bait with which to fish:

A mixture of moldy bread, suet and roast chestnuts, tar, honey and coagulated blood, or sometimes the viscera of a cat, saffron and turpentine, which macerate in a glass jar. You would be impressed by the size of the maggots I raise in a skinned sheep’s head hung from the porch roof. I also have a series of compartmented boxed in which I store live insects – grasshoppers, cockchafers, mayflies, bees and plump crickets. Where worms and leeches are concerned, I keep them on a bed of moss that I sprinkle regularly with a decoction of walnut leaves. To make the more active, every day I feed them a spoonful of well-beaten egg yolk mixed with cream and a sprinkling of anise seeds. And I always brush them with ivy oil or veal marrow before attaching them to the hook, which extends their life in the water.

Parasitic larvae, it turns out, are already devouring the wafers of consecrated host, just as dark forces are already congregating outside the church wherein these confessions are heard. It is a fitting metaphor, as the small luxuries of the world eat away at and ultimately possess and devour the strangers who come to offer their infernal tales. “Be in no hurry to grant me pardon, Father,” one interjects, “for I have no completed my confession. The worst is yet to come.” Devilish prickles will surely spread across the reader’s neck at that point, in joyful anticipation of worse and worse things – for this is a hellishly pleasurable book.

— www.raintaxi.com

Maleficium

by Martine Desjardins, trans. by Fred A. Reed, David Homel

In Latin, maleficium refers to "an evil deed, injury, sorcery," and Martine Desjardins acknowledges that her novel's title was inspired by the Malleus Maleficarum, the infamous 15th-century treatise on witches. Constructed like a Chinese box puzzle, Desjardins's Maleficium contains confessions from seven men stricken by repulsive ailments--and one "demonic, harelipped" woman responsible for bringing these ailments upon the men.

Set in the heyday of empires, the novel's central theme--the ruthless exploitation of cultures and natural resources for commercial and scientific purposes--still resonates with 21st-century readers. The "evil deed" in Maleficium is civilization itself. Civilization is "evil" because it often gravitates toward plunder and rape. Fueled by perpetual desire, the male confessors--collectors of rare insects; traders of spices, tortoise shells, fragrant soaps, Persian carpets--only want to violate or accumulate, not to connect on a human level. On the other hand, civilization means retributive justice for the disenfranchised, even if this notion of justice--from the oppressor's view--resembles sorcery or usurpation.

Mannered and ornate, the novel's multi-framed narrative yields facets of a deeply conflicted self. Maleficium's core mystery is Vicar Jerôme Savoie, a Montreal priest who transcribes the confessions, thus breaking the vow of secrecy that the sacrament of confession requires. Since there is no other proof regarding the existence of the priest, or even for the veracity of the recorded confessions, the novel becomes an intricate game involving the nature of truth and fiction.

— www.shelf-awareness.com

Maleficium

Review by Rob Sherren, Published in the Montreal Review of Books, Fall 2012 issue

Not since the matchbook-sized publication of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám has such a sumptuous collection of images been packed into so slim a book.Maleficium is a sybarite’s dream of mid-orient plagues and pleasures, yet it proselytizes moderation.

Written by Martine Desjardins and translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, Maleficium has a structure that is simple and repetitive: seven sinners visit a Montreal vicar and, under the sacramental protection of confession, each tells a story so compelling that it moves the vicar to the unpardonable sin of writing them down. It’s the end of the 19th century. Each man has travelled to a capital of the old world – Damascus, Kashmir, Shiraz, Zanzibar – in search of knowledge that will further his profession. Each meets a woman with a cleft palate. She enthrals them. She helps them. She allows them to stroke the silk of success, and then she damns them with their own desires. The spice merchant searching for a spice more fragrant than saffron loses his nose to leprosy; the architect who learns the secret of Shibam’s towers is struck by vertigo so crippling he must come to the confessional on hands and knees.

Complexity arises from the simple structure of the tale as from a clay flute whose four holes can produce a thousand melodies. Variations of tone and definition lead to wordplay. For example, “stigma” is used to mean the filament of a saffron crocus, then the marks of the crucifixion, and then the shame of living without a nose. Another confession uses the word “unctuous” in three distinct ways. It’s no wonder that it took two translators to untangle these subtleties and recast them for the English ear and eye.

The seven supplicants each warn the vicar that the woman with the split lip is bringing her curses to him. The confessions are recorded as monologues, so we never hear the clergyman’s voice or feel his anxiety. The prologue discloses how the stories drove the vicar to commit the transgression of recording them, but because we learn this before we hear the stories, the vicar’s worries are placed in the background. This is not a novel of character or dialogue; it does not attempt to be. There is never any question of what will happen in each story, only how. There is tension, given the harelipped woman’s impending arrival at the vicar’s church, but this reader was not entirely satisfied with how that device resolved. The end, however, is left purposefully ambiguous, and supports readings that may appeal to other readers.

 

 

Maleficium , then, is a parable about Western ambition as characterized by seven men who, on the eve of the great wars, are hungry for Eastern knowledge. In the guise of the comely woman with the cleft palate, the East protects itself from exploitation as the matador does from a bull – tripping it up and impaling it upon its own horns.
The scarred men return to Montreal, seeking absolution with the harelipped daemoness hot on their heels. When she exacts her final vengeance, it feels as though the snake that has caught its tail is about to swallow itself and disappear. It is not an intimate book, readers will not feel close to the characters, but it is an exquisite rendering of theme. If only all justice was as purposeful and poetic.

— www.mtlreviewofbooks.ca

“Lust, greed, retribution, and shame — Maleficium reads like a flesh-bound catalogue of my favourite sins. Desjardins skillfully blends the repulsive with the erotic to craft stories that rise from the past and perfume the air with incense and magic. An intensely pleasurable work that builds, tale by exotic tale, to a dark climax. Forgive me, Father: I loved it.”
—Jenn Farrell


Maleficium

by Martine Desjardins; Fred A. Reed and David Homel, trans.

Questions of memory and truth also take centre stage in Quebec author Martine Desjardins’s fourth book, Maleficium. Another translation from the French, with a plot that shuttles between Montreal and the other side of the world, Maleficium plays on personal histories and takes an adventurous turn toward the bizarre.

Framed as an early-20th-century vicar’s true account, the book consists of monologues from seven men, each of whom confesses a separate encounter with the same bewitching, scar-faced woman during his travels abroad. The woman – who alternates as a governess, a photographer, and a mystic – inevitably attracts each man by offering some essential assistance in his quest for profit or glory.

All seven confessions take the reader to exotic locales with richly wrought surroundings. A search for rare red saffron in Kashmir or the pursuit of a dangerous locust swarm on the Arabian Peninsula, for instance, set the stage for engrossing tales shot through with mythical qualities.

A creative focus on the carnal runs throughout the narratives as each man comes to covet some fantastical aspect of the woman’s body: the tail-like curve of her back, her perfectly helical ears, the golden scales that pour like tears from her eyes. Quirkiness abounds as each man goes to extreme lengths to possess what he desires.

What begins as a rich and original story, however, begins to feel formulaic when it becomes clear that every monologue follows the same pattern. All seven men are similar, their voices largely indistinct.

Despite the repetitiveness, Maleficium’s momentum is saved by the suspense surrounding each sinner’s obscure (and unique) fate. The woman curses each character with a peculiar bodily affliction, and because the narrative places readers in the vicar’s position, we are allowed the satisfaction of judging the appropriateness of each punishment.

Overall, the collection of confessions takes a deliciously strange approach to remembering and retelling the past. In an unexpected twist near the end, an eighth perspective adds compelling backstory and transports readers to new terrain altogether.

— Allison MacLachlan - www.quillandquire.com

Maleficium is an orgiastic celebration of our five senses … Drawing on explorers’ diaries, medical reference manuals, entomological textbooks and reference works on the varying professions of those who have confided their secret sins to their parish priest, the novel at the same time impressions the reader with its rigorous attention to detail.”
—Le Libraire


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.

— belletrista

Maleficium
Martin Desjardins Translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, Talonbooks ($14.95) By Spencer Dew
Hell, in the broader Western tradition, or a state that depends upon the physical senses, the nerve networks of the body. Hell without pain is abstract at best; hell without biological desires – hungers, thirsts, the longing for rest – likewise lacks teeth as a concept. The hells we know from the great Western accounts have harsh smells, stagnant waters, air thick with bitter gas, and they are places characterized, foremost, by hyperbolic reversals both of known reality – lakes of liquid flame, flesh that bubbles back and burn without being fully consumed – and poetic twists on sensual needs and sensual desires: women who sinned with their loins must endure new and horrific penetrations; those who committed evil with their tongues have their tongues stretched and split and tortured. Martin Desjardins dips into this tradition, spinning a series of Orientalist-tinged tales, each told as a confession to a harried priest, confession of sins linked to the titillating dangers of the senses. Exotic, far-flung locales are invoked, each featuring a women with a harelip, that mark of the devil, each playing to flaws in the listening priest’s own character, his own vanities and lusts, the little ornaments he clings to, the glances he casts at the tight-skirted hips of parishioners as they leave mass. These pages are rich with the scent of De Quincey and Huysman as well as Dejardins’s own original incenses and perfumes – one milked from a secret, genital-based stigmata, for instance. Heresies abound, along with missionaries terrified or turned, scientists who clutch their tattered rationality like a rosary, The line between infestation and plague is a line Dejardins well knows is deliciously pleasurable to fine, even if it leaves us raw, aching, or worse. These are the tales of pleasures removed, that traditional dynamic of hell: sample an incomparable delight, then have your ability to experience such delight stripped, cruelly but justifiably, away. The bodies of those who confess are marked, just as the bodies of those they lust for – those who lead them into sin and obsession – are marked, not merely by the harelip but by a reptilian tail, say, or glands that give birth to rare oils, “lachrymal glands [that secrete] a substance that solidified when exposed to sunlight, and formed scaly tears.” The world here is both exotic and toxic, moored in intricate craft and material culture. The soap-making tradition of Nablus, for instance, or the industry of collecting medallions from hawksbill turtle shell, provides fodder for some of Desjardins’s most seductive prose.
Though Desjardins is equally good at describing the seductive sigh of a carpet woven of women’s hair, the cruel glee of watching caged monkeys fight of petits four crumbs, or the biology of cholera and how the whip-tailed microbe fares best under certain hyperbolically unhygienic conditions: The villages worst affected by cholera were inhabited by former Wahadimu slaves whose sole means of subsistence is making rope from coconut fiber. Their huts stand in the midst of open-air cesspools filled with stagnant water, where coconut shells are left to macerate for months before their fibers are supple enough to be woven. These filthy cloacae provided the incubator in which flies in their legions would lay their eggs. In veritable clouds they hovered over the villages, dragging their legs throughexcreta and depositing the disease wherever they alighted. They were so numerous, and their buzzing so deafening, that it was impossible for me to work. How much more delicious, then – delicious in the diabolical sense, perhaps, like the irresistible urge to work a loose tooth with one’s tongue or to pick at the edges of a scabbing wound – is the detailed explanation, a few pages later, of the best sort of bait with which to fish: A mixture of moldy bread, suet and roast chestnuts, tar, honey and coagulated blood, or sometimes the viscera of a cat, saffron and turpentine, which macerate in a glass jar. You would be impressed by the size of the maggots I raise in a skinned sheep’s head hung from the porch roof. I also have a series of compartmented boxed in which I store live insects – grasshoppers, cockchafers, mayflies, bees and plump crickets. Where worms and leeches are concerned, I keep them on a bed of moss that I sprinkle regularly with a decoction of walnut leaves. To make the more active, every day I feed them a spoonful of well-beaten egg yolk mixed with cream and a sprinkling of anise seeds. And I always brush them with ivy oil or veal marrow before attaching them to the hook, which extends their life in the water. Parasitic larvae, it turns out, are already devouring the wafers of consecrated host, just as dark forces are already congregating outside the church wherein these confessions are heard. It is a fitting metaphor, as the small luxuries of the world eat away at and ultimately possess and devour the strangers who come to offer their infernal tales. “Be in no hurry to grant me pardon, Father,” one interjects, “for I have no completed my confession. The worst is yet to come.” Devilish prickles will surely spread across the reader’s neck at that point, in joyful anticipation of worse and worse things – for this is a hellishly pleasurable book.

— www.raintaxi.com

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