The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy

Written by Charmaine Craig
Review by Sarah Johnson

In 1320, the Inquisition asked Grazida Lizier, a young widow from Montaillou, France, to testify about her views of God and Satan, as well as her adulterous, incestuous relationship with the village priest. From her testimony, as well as other primary and secondary sources, the author — fascinated by Grazida’s disarmingly honest approach to life and sin — has crafted a thoughtful, impressively detailed story.

Montaillou was the last stronghold of the Cathar heresy, a perversion of Catholicism in which the soul is considered pure, but the physical world inherently evil. The village’s spiritual leader, Pierre Clergue, himself has Cathar sympathies, and his religious ambivalence and sexual proclivities cause the Inquisition to focus on Montaillou. Pierre’s first love is for his brother’s discarded mistress, but his unrequited passion for her is later fulfilled through his relationship with Grazida, her illegitimate granddaughter.

Craig concentrates on the villagers’ interpersonal relationships and spiritual lives rather than their trials by the Inquisition, as if she cares too much about her characters to see them suffer unduly. The novel is simply and directly told, for its subject needs no melodrama to carry its message further. I recommend it highly.