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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Martine Desjardins

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To purchase Maleficium

Title: Maleficium
Author: Martine Desjardins
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 150 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Maleficium - US
Maleficium - UK
Maleficium - Canada
Maleficium - Canada (French)
Maleficium - India
Maleficium - France
  • French title: Maleficium
  • Translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable bit of fin de siècle decadence

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 21/11/2009 Caroline Montpetit
Quill & Quire . 3/2012 Allison MacLachlan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Martine Desjardins a écrit un livre qui semble tout droit sorti du XIXe siècle, à l'âge d'or du symbolisme décadent, offrant ainsi une oeuvre comme on ne croyait plus qu'il s'en écrivait aujourd'hui." - Caroline Montpetit, Le Devoir

  • "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, Maleficiumís momentum is saved by the suspense surrounding each sinnerís obscure (and unique) fate." - Allison MacLachlan, Quill & Quire

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Set around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, Maleficium is steeped in fin de siècle decadence, its tales largely set in what was then still considered the 'exotic Orient' (stretching from Ethiopia to India to Zanzibar); it comes complete with femme fatale, too.
       The book opens with a 'Cautionary Note for Readers', explaining that this is the: "scandalously notorious Maleficium by Vicar Jérôme Savoie". The Canadian Vicar lived 1877 to 1913, and in this volume he collected transcriptions of "depraved confessions" he heard (an entirely inappropriate thing to do, of course, since confessions are only meant for the ear of the confessor, and the almighty); the work is described as having long been suppressed by the archdiocese, but now is finally made available in an unexpurgated form.
       The book consists of eight confessions. It begins with a man who had traded in spices giving his confession -- and explaining how he came to (literally) lose his nose. It happened because he stuck it somewhere that he shouldn't have, and it involves a young woman -- just seventeen or so -- he came across in Srinagar whose distinguishing feature was a harelip (well, and also some pretty impressive stigmata). This mysterious, seductive young woman is the unifying thread of the confessions, as the others who appear before Jérôme Savoie also report their encounters with her in a variety of places in the course of their travels -- she always with the harelip, but also a variety of other remarkable features that vary from encounter to encounter. She turns out not just to be decadence personified, but also marks each of these men, in a variety of creative and terrible ways; Desjardins' inventions here would have made the authors of the French decadent movement proud.
       Already in the second confession a sense of some urgency also stirs in the background, as the second man to confess reveals that he has seen the young woman, just the day before, in the Montreal parish where Jérôme Savoie is taking these confessions. He warns the confessor:

She will come to tempt you, for you, as do I, appreciate the beauty of a female rump. Do not deny it. Just now I saw you watching the ladies leaving the church. Heed my advice: when a girl with a split lip kneels before you, close your eyes before she turns her back to you.
       As the other confessions suggest, however, there's more to the young woman than just that, and once she's set her sights on Jérôme Savoie it's unlikely he could escape some terrible fate.
       So Maleficium offers variations on a theme -- seductive girl who turns the tables on the greedy men who eye her, chastising them in deliciously horrible ways --, culminating with the confessor himself learning first-hand what all the fuss is about.
       It really is a tale straight out of the fin de siècle, and could have just as easily been published over a century ago. It's a nicely-done and well-imagined entertainment of this sort, and a very good pass-time read for those who enjoy a bit of creepy decadent fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 May 2012

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Maleficium: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Martine Desjardins was born in 1957.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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