Ignorance by Michele Roberts

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Ignorance by Michele Roberts

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A powerful and moving story of the lives of two young women in a French village during the German occupation. Beautifully written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781408831151

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Michèle Roberts's Ignorance is a beautifully written, lyrical story about life in wartime France. Narrated mainly by two characters, Jeanne and Marie-Angèle, it jumps back and forward in time and is an enthralling mixture of guilt, faith, and survival. The two girls could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter while Jeanne is the daughter of a Jewish mother who washes clothes for a living. The two girls together go to the village convent for their education but come from different ends of the social spectrum. When the German occupation arrives, the two girls' experiences are very different but both are 'ignorant' of each others plight and their judgements are repeatedly shown to be wide of the mark. In fact the book could just as well have been titled 'Judgement'. Just when you think you know one through the eyes of the other, you get the opposite view of things.

If you like a conventional story and plot line, this may not be the book for you. The book's strength is in the lyrical, almost poetic descriptions and time periods jump back and forward. But while lyrical books can be tend towards wordy tomes, this is quite the opposite. The writing is concise and emotive and the result is enthralling.

In particular, at the heart of the book is the way French society dealt with the women who had fraternised with the German soldiers during the war. The judgement of others is always black and white while the truth is often more complicated and everyone was really doing what they needed to get by.

All of Roberts's narrators are female. As well as Jeanne and Marie-Angèle we also hear from Jeanne's daughter Andrée and briefly from one of the nuns. It is this last narration that is perhaps the most unexpected revelation.

While the plotting and characterisation are satisfying, the real quality comes from her descriptions of French village life. In a few short sentences she is able to evoke the textures, smells and fabric of village life. Equally clever is the way that she contrasts how this is seen through the eyes of the two main characters as children and then later as adults. Powerful too is her ability to portray heartache and loss. It would take a cold hearted reader to not be moved by the plight of Jeanne in particular.

It's simply a beautiful piece of writing; in fact, it's tempting to say that Ignorance is bliss.

Our thanks to the kind people at Bloomsbury for sending us a copy of this book.

Amongst other books optimistic enough to challenge for the Women's Prize for Fiction in a year when Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is featured include NW by Zadie Smith and A Trick I Learned from Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge. Other prizes may be more consistent in their names, but few match the consistency of quality of this annual award.

Buy Ignorance by Michele Roberts at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ignorance by Michele Roberts at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Ignorance by Michele Roberts at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ignorance by Michele Roberts at Amazon.com.


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