Children of the Black Sabbath – Anne Hébert
Crown Publishers – 1977
(Originally published as Les Enfants du Sabbat in 1975)
This book is about a daughter of Satan who becomes a nun and wreaks havoc in her convent. The title sounds like a heavy metal tribute act. Anne Hébert is a respected author, but she wrote in French, and there’s very few reviews of the English translation of this book. Also, it was recently reissued by Centipede Press, one of the coolest publishers out there. I had to read this.
At first I wasn’t sure if Sister Julie, the protagonist, was actually possessed or if she was just mental. The Devil is here though. There is real wickedness at play, and some very nasty things occur. Sister Julie is from a long line of witches, and without spoiling the story, I will say that she performs a pretty blasphemous miracle by the end of the book.
Hébert was an award winning French Canadian author. There’s unannounced perspective changes and flashbacks in here, and you have to pay attention when you’re reading it. (This isn’t a problem though. There’s plenty going on to hold your attention.) Even though it’s a translation, this book felt more literary than a lot of the horror fiction I review here.
I’m not really sure what the message of the book is. I might be biased, but I thought the head nun and priest of the convent come across as more dislikable than the daughter of Satan who is working towards their ruin. Sister Julie is not a standard hero figure though. The source of her powers seems to be the incestuous rape and neglect she suffered as a child. The suffering she has endures makes it hard not to want to see her succeed in her endevours, but she also lashes out at people who don’t deserve it. The book doesn’t seem to come firmly down on the side of god or Satan.
This was atmospheric, tense, dark fiction. You should read it.