The Good Men

Charmaine Craig

Published by Riverhead Hardcover, 2002
ISBN 10: 157322197X / ISBN 13: 9781573221979
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Synopsis: Charmaine Craig was studying medieval history at Harvard when she first encountered the startling testimony of Grazida Lizier, a young woman tried by the Inquisition in 1320. Even after she was accepted into the MFA program at the University of California at Irvine, Craig found she couldn't stop thinking about the seven-hundred-year-old document and knew she had to write a novel based on it. The Good Men is the gripping, epic story of what happened when religious persecution turned Christian against Christian and neighbor against neighbor in Montaillou, a small village in south-west France. Three generations of characters are torn between desires for spiritual grace and fleshly pleasure.

Historically accurate and pitch-perfect, The Good Men movingly dramatizes how relatively small, and at times barely comprehensible, differences in faith served as the impetus behind a tragedy of enormous proportions. Charmaine Craig reanimates questions of religious belief and faith that are as relevant now as in the fourteenth century and, in the process, exposes human nature in all its baseness as well as beauty. This remarkable first novel brilliantly evokes a horrific event in history, with a scope and emotional power that call to mind Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

The Good Men includes an epigraph that discusses the history on which the novel is based, and other apparatus, including maps, a glossary of heretical terms, and two time lines.

Review: The Good Men, Charmaine Craig's fascinating tale of medieval torments and unrequited love, is brutally illuminating. The story concerns Pierre Clergue, a 14th-century French rector. Pierre is a small man plagued for a lifetime by his bad hip and the maddening tension between dutiful celibacy and plain old lust. In love with his brother's lover, the pregnant Marquise, Pierre takes her and her illegitimate daughter (Pierre's niece), Fabrisse, under his wing. In time, Pierre becomes the top cleric in the town of Mantaillou and abuses his position, having a number of secret affairs, one of them with Fabrisse and eventually with the latter's daughter, Grazida, who marries a Cathar.

Here is where the author's juxtaposition of fiction and history really begins to pay off by intensifying Pierre's inner conflicts. The Cathars, also known as the Good Men, are a real-life Christian sect from medieval southern France. They enter Montaillou declaring that all things mortal are creations of Satan. They preach renunciation of the flesh and, of course, women. Pierre is initially drawn to the Cathar's stated determination, but he finds, as all Cathars do, that renouncing sins of the flesh just makes such sins more tempting. Craig's use of alternate points of view creates a world rich in texture and emotional resonance, one that lends itself to meditations upon religious conviction and crises. The dense writing could be leaner on descriptive detail, which would speed up the sometimes slow character development, but otherwise, The Good Men is a fine experience. --Tom Keogh

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Good Men
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Very Good

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Charmaine Craig
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