The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Patchett’s books, so when I saw The Patron Saint of Liars at my local English library, I decided to pick it up.  This is actually Patchett’s first novel, and the story revolves around a young woman named Rose who is a devout Catholic.  She grows up with her mother in California, her father having died in a car accident when she was only three.  Rose is convinced that a sign from God will show her her direction in life, and when a young man from her church falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, she thinks that she has finally gotten her sign.  She marries him and is promptly unhappy, as she doesn’t really love him back.

To deal with her dissatisfaction, Rose takes to driving long distances, going further and further with no real destination or purpose.  When she finds out she is pregnant, she decides to just keep on driving–all the way to Habit, Kentucky, where she checks in to Saint Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers, leaving her husband and mother behind with nothing more than a vague note.

At Saint Elizabeth’s, Rose meets Sister Evangeline, an old nun who works in the kitchen and has extrasensory abilities, being able to “hear” babies in the mother’s womb and predict their future.  As Rose settles into life at Saint Elizabeth’s, she and Sister Evangeline grow closer, and she begins forming relationships with other people there, including June, a local “saint” as the first person to be cured by a nearby healing spring, and Son, the handyman with a past.  Their futures become intertwined as Rose once again sees what she thinks is her sign from God with the impending birth of her child.

The story is told with three different narrators–first Rose, then Son, and finally Cecilia, Rose’s daughter.  I liked the book more at the beginning, I think because seeing the story from Rose’s point of view made her more of a sympathetic character.  Once Son takes over the narration, however, and I started to see Rose through other people’s eyes, I realized just what an emotionless character she is, and I really started to dislike her.  By the time I got to Cecilia, I didn’t see how the book could have any kind of a satisfactory ending–Rose never changes, never develops as a person.  I kept waiting for there to be some kind of self-realization or emotional growth, and it just never happens.

I liked the setting of Habit and Saint Elizabeth’s, and I enjoyed the characters of Son and Cecilia, as well as some of the more minor characters, but ultimately I never really got the point of the book.  There were a lot of references to religion, to signs and miracles and saints, but I didn’t understand the message that Patchett was trying to get across with all of it, unless it’s that untimately it’s all meaningless, because it doesn’t show anyone the path they’re supposed to take.  It certainly doesn’t help Rose to become a better person.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t appreciate the book more, but despite the fact that it is well-written, ultimately it felt very hollow and unsatisfying.

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5 thoughts on “The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

  1. Marg

    I felt a bit like that about Bel Canto. I know lots of people who loved that book but I just didn’t. I am about to read State of Wonder so we will see if it was just that book or if it is really that I don’t get along with Patchett’s writing. I have been to see her in person and I found her so engaging to listen to so I will be disappointed if it is the latter!

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