The Patron Saint of Liars

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Patron Saint of Liars
by Ann Patchett

Patchett’s first book introduces us to Rose, a married woman who decides she’s never loved her husband and she wants out. She’s pregnant, but still decides to leave her life in California behind. She takes off and ends up at St. Elizabeth's, a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. 

Rose is a cold character and the first section of the book was hard for me to get into. About 1/3 of the way in we switch to a different point of view, that of the home’s handyman Son, and after that things clicked for me. By the end of the book we rotate perspective once more, seeing the world through Rose’s daughter Cecelia’s eyes. These alternative POVs made things work so much better because Rose is such an intentionally hard character to connect with. Since we started from Rose’s POV I should have understood her character better, but she kept the reader at such a distance.

I loved the interaction of the women at St. Elizabeth’s. There’s such an intense bond of shared experience, almost like a summer camp on steroids. I was reminded a little bit of the scene from When She Woke in the women’s home. The women form friendships quickly because they are all pregnant and alone in the world in some way.

I think what I loved about the book was the quiet rhythm that you get into without even realizing it. Not much happens, but there’s a steady flow of time, women come and go with the years and all the while Rose is a steady force, never changing. I also loved the character of Sister Evangeline, an older nun who is the only one who seems to understand Rose.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s an extremely good first novel. Patchett’s gift for storytelling has clearly improved with time, but I still enjoyed this one. I also love being able to compare her early work to her later work.


Nadia said...

So glad you enjoyed this one! I have it on my shelf and am excited to read it now. I fell in love with Patchett's writing after reading, State of Wonder. I've only read a few of her books, but have loved each one. I'm really looking forward to reading all of her works.

Trisha said...

This title has crossed my path quite a few times, and every time I tell myself I need to read it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

So I can't remember if you read Patchett's "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage"? It is a collection of her essays, and one of them is about how she started writing this book. BTW, if you haven't read this collection, I highly HIGHLY recommend it. Probably will be one of my favorite books of the year.

JoAnn said...

I've been reading Patchett right along and really liked this book a lot. It has been fun watching her develop as a writer!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I recall reading this on vacation one year and thought it was a good debut novel.

Brona said...

I have a Patchett or 2 on my TBR - sounds like it's time to move them up the list!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nadia A - That's how I feel about her work. She's incredibly talented.

Trisha - If you're a Patchett fan I definitely would.

Sandy - Yes I loved "Hapy Marriage" it was so good! I read a library copy and have been looking for my own copy ever since I finished it.

JoAnn - I came to her work later, thorough Bell Canto, but have other authors like that. I love seeing their talent develop!

Diane - Yes, even though it isn't my favorite of her's, I thought it was really impressive for a debut.

Brona - She's excellent! I would start with a different one of her's though, maybe "Bel Canto" or "Truth and Beauty" or "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage."

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

Hmmmm. I was just wondering about this one as it's been sitting on my shelf collecting dust. So a keeper in your eyes, it sounds like? I loved Bel Canto.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trish - Not my favorite of her books, but I just love her writing. She creates such interesting characters. I'll read anything she writes.