Saint Julian

Written by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Review by Suzanne J. Sprague

        Thirty-six short chapters describe the life of Saint Julian, the Hospitaller, chronicling his auspicious birth through the final redemption that seals his sainthood. Born into the privileged class in the Middle Ages, Julian is fueled by the urge to kill. After a particularly vicious massacre of an entire forest full of animals, Julian learns that he is destined to murder his beloved mother and father. Seeking to escape his fate, he runs off and gains notoriety as an unstoppable knight. He is rewarded with a modest estate that he tends alongside a loving wife. Yet he cannot outrun the prophecy, and after gruesomely fulfilling it, ostracizes himself from civilization. He eventually finds a way to serve society and atone for his crimes.

       Based upon the life of an actual saint, Saint Julian is narrated by a minor cleric who begins by explaining that his life’s work has been researching Saint Julian’s history. The novel is written in report-like fashion with each chapter representing a facet of Julian’s life. All characters, save Julian, are nameless, and even the time period is kept intentionally ambiguous. The narrator periodically intrudes to directly address the reader, but most of the time, the story progresses as the narrator speculates on Julian’s self-loathing and relationships with those around him. The writing is rather formal with occasional jarring crudeness, such as descriptive slaughters and a rather unexpected love scene.

          Julian was a troubled man, and this book is certainly filled with his remorse. Those interested in a fictional account of Saint Julian or enjoy hunting will more than likely find it fascinating.