Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen

This is one of my favourite all-time reads and I have enjoyed re-reading it again in the months following Heavenali’s Month of Re-Reading in January 2013. One of the epigraphs for this novel comes from Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and part of the epigraph is:

“…she was a Virgin of lost things, one who restored what was lost. She was the only one of these wood or marble or plaster Virgins who ever seemed at all real to me. There could be some point in praying to her, kneeling down, lighting a candle. But I didn’t do it, because I didn’t know what to pray for. What was lost, what I could pin on her dress. 

I paint the Virgin Mary descending to the earth, which is covered with snow and slush. She is wearing a winter coat over her blue robe, and has a purse slung over her shoulder. She’s carrying two bags of groceries.  Several things have fallen from the bags: an egg, an onion, an apple. She looks tired.”

And this is from Our Lady of the Lost and Found:Our Lady of

“There was a woman standing in front of the fig tree.

She was wearing a navy blue trench coat and white running shoes. She had a white shawl draped over her hair like a hood. Over her right shoulder she carried a large leather purse. In her left hand she held the extended metal handle of a small suitcase on wheels that rested on an angle slightly behind her like an obedient dog.

Fear not, she said.

I was too stunned to be scared. I put the watering can down on the coffee table and stared at her.

It’s me, Mary, she said. Mother of God.

I must have looked blank. She went on, smiling.”

Her going on consisted of listing a number of the official designations given her such as Queen of Heaven and Daughter of Zion.

And so begins this remarkable one week visit by the Virgin Mary to the home of another very ordinary woman in an ordinary town who writes for a living and lives a quiet, simple life. During the course of the visit, the reader learns a great deal about the Virgin Mary and her position throughout the world in various cultures and of her various appearances such as that to a wealthy widow in Walsingham in 1061, to another widow, Petruccia de Geneo in Italy in 1467 and to twelve-year-old Eugene Barbedette and his ten-year-old brother Joseph in 1871 in Pontmain in northwestern France. The information is presented in very palatable segments labelled as History or Knowledge or Sightings and these are balanced by sections about ordinary shopping expeditions and preparation of meals or about things like the coincidence that both the narrator and her visitor are re-reading The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. If you are a book person you just have to adore this part about reading a book about two people reading another book that you want to get out immediately and start re-reading yourself! Such a simple joy!

From the book jacket: “An absorbing and inventive novel that redefines our notions of fiction and non-fiction. Our Lady of the Lost and Found is an inspiration to believers and non-believers alike. Perhaps its greatest achievement is that through the narrator’s touching friendship with Mary, we learn as much as she does. We come to understand that in our desire to believe in something larger than ourselves, it is our own doubt and uncertainty that makes us perfect candidates for faith.”

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