“Martin Guerre” and “Soren Quist”, two novels by Janet Lewis

My goodness, I missed a book! Forgot to write about it! This doesn’t happen very often – although sometimes I’m too embarrassed to write about real junk. (You know, bodice rippers).

So here’s my review of two excellent novels by Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre and The Trial of Soren Qvist. Both are set in medieval Europe and based on real historical events. The first of these books, which I read a few months ago for a book discussion group, was made into a popular movie (The Return of Martin Guerre) in 1982. I liked the book very much. It is so simply written that I sometimes wished the author had taken the time for more detail. A young man leaves home because his father-in-law is giving him a hard time. Some years later, he returns, but despite an initially warm welcome, his wife begins to suspect he is an imposter. Ultimately, he is charged with deception, which he admits. When he is sentenced to death, the wife pleads that he not be killed, asking only that he be sent away. Before the imposter is executed, the REAL Martin Guerre appears on the scene, ill and half crazed. He cannot forgive his wife for her confusion and initial acquiescence to a fraud. Such drama! No wonder this made a good movie.

Then I read The Trial of Soren Qvist. I liked it even better! As in Martin Guerre, there is a mysterious disappearance, but the book focuses on those left behind. Soren Qvist is an admirable pastor with one severe character flaw, an explosive and violent temper. He frightens but does not harm his family. Faced with an evil, conniving enemy, he admits to a murder he thinks he committed while sleepwalking. His loving friends and family are unable to prevent his execution. Years later, the machinations of his (deceased) enemy are uncovered. This is really a book about a man’s relationship with himself and with God. Ultimately, Qvist decides his real crime was to doubt God’s love and protection.

I hope someone makes a movie of The Trial of Soren Qvist! Meanwhile, don’t miss these two short novels written by Janet Lewis (1899 – 1998) in the 1940s. Lewis was known mostly for her poetry and was perhaps somewhat overshadowed by her poet husband, Yvor Winters, but she was a fine novelist and you shouldn’t overlook her work.

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