Pegasus Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-933-64883-5.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 09/10/2008
Solange Vernet was a radical. Her belief that women could be educated in science and her unmarried cohabitation with the Darwinian geologist Charles Westbury—as well as their joint lectures promoting the idea that the earth was millions of years old—made her the talk of the quaint provincial town of Aix-en-Provence, France. When she is found strangled to death in a quarry outside the city, up-and-coming judge Bernard Martin finds himself in the middle of a cultural debate that could make or break his career. Was Vernet's murder the result of a lover's spat or God's punishment for her wayward lifestyle? Or was Vernet more than a nonconformist female, perhaps a human being whose beliefs didn't merit her burial in an unmarked grave in a farmer's field?
Solange Vernet and Charles Westbury seemed outrageous because they promoted science, the belief that the world was ancient, and the right of women to become educated. Vernet rose from poverty to her own successful business in Paris. She also chose to live with Westbury as his lover rather than marrying him. This was considered sinful in 19th century France. Isn't it amazing that we still have the same dilemma today? While women like Vernet are more accepted in modern society, the debate of Darwinism vs. Creationism still rages and a promiscuous woman is still gossiped about behind her back.
Barbara Corrado Pope's mystery Cezanne's Quarry is a masterful mix of history, French law and custom, religion, and intrigue. Her prose is so direct and well-crafted that I felt as if I were in the small town of Aix and knew the characters as my neighbors. Pope is expert at leaving small hints throughout her work and wrapping them up in a masterful way at the end of the novel. I also enjoyed the way she intertwined fact and fiction and incorporated real life people into her plot: Paul Cezanne, a true French artist and the father of modern art; Emile Zola, an influential French writer.The result is an intelligent novel that is thought-provoking without being dull. Who else but Pope could make historic French law fascinating? I not only enjoyed the plot, I learned a thing or two as well.
Barbara Corrado Pope is a historian and the founding director of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Oregon. Barbara has lived and worked in Provence, where Cezanne's Quarry is set. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon. Cezanne's Quarry was her first novel. Visit the novel's website.
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