I think I’m a few decades late to Ron Hansen’s coming-out party. And it’s likely most of my Catholic readers have already read this book. So you’re likely not going to need my recommendation. I’m going to touch on some points as I have sensed them through this novel.
Though about a postulant in a 1906-07 convent, this book possesses a very American feel: a reverence for nature and for the rhythm of life on our continent. I haven’t read Mr Hansen’s Western stories, but I can see certain links to a sense of American wonder, even if the setting for Mariette is a cloistered religious community in the East.
Mr Hansen alternates between lyrical passages I found reminiscent of psalmody, and the more conventional story line moving forward. Mariette is also under investigation, so testimony is the third medium by which the story is told. All three work marvelously well, and bring a remarkable balance to the effort.
I understand Mariette in Ecstasy has been adapted for film (though not a US release) and stage. That’s fine, I’m sure. But this story really cries for a setting as an opera. The writing is so luminous it sings.
I confess: I’d love to be able to write like Ron Hansen.
The big question as the novel heads into part 3: is Mariette really experiencing a miracle or is she just an accomplished “actress,” as one character asserts? How much of the action is due to God’s grace and how much the devil? And the final resolution for Mariette, is it just? Is it right? I think so. A hundred years ago, the thought of someone being ejected from a monastery would have been a humiliating defeat. But in the instance of this book, I think it makes for a happy ending. A deeply Catholic believer doesn’t need the endorsement of the Church, the propping up of priesthood or religious life, or even the regard of one’s sister and brother believers to know one is following God faithfully. I loved the ending. It seemed logical, entirely correct, and ultimately just.
This portrait of a deeply religious woman is just about perfect. If you haven’t read it, read it tomorrow if you can.