Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer


My rating: 5/5 stars

Two important things to know about this book: it had the saddest “happy ending” I’ve ever read, and Catholicism figures heavily in the plot. If these things turn you off, you should still give it a whirl, but be warned.

The Catholic thing in particular throws off many Goodreads reviewers. “The Catholic stuff was boring” and “I don’t care about religion, I don’t want to read about it.” I kind of get it, I mean, I’m an athiest with a Catholic background, but if writing is good, it’s good. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, or doesn’t matter much.

And that ending? Left me devastated for days. I won’t quote the last line, because who does that, but it physically hurt me to read it.

Another warning: I suppose the book is a bit pretentious, being based on the real lives of writers Flannery O’Connor and her Robert Lowell, and being epistolary, and being character driven, as opposed to plot.

This is a long list of caveats for a five star review. I think the bad reviews on Goodreads really hurt my feelings and I while I want to tell everyone to read this, read it now, I also want readers to go in with eyes open.

So, assuming you are okay with sad endings, religious themes, and literary leanings, why read Frances and Bernard?

I picked this up at the library months ago, so I can’t quote, but the writing is just how you would imagine the correspondence between two writers in love to be: spare, beautiful, manipulative, and heartbreaking. The characters are so fully realized in their genius and their limitations. They certainly aren’t likable, but you will want them to work things out even though you know they won’t, can’t. It’s not a spoiler because it’s obvious, they’re star crossed. This is what happens when Romeo and Juliet are grown ups instead of flighty teens.

This is my favorite read of the year so far. It might be yours too. Read it, won’t you?



  1. Carolyn O

    I just read it too, and posted my review earlier this week! I loved it too. I didn’t think it was pretentious at all. Frances’s Catholicism is such an integral part of her character, influencing her decisions and letters, that it just seemed natural.

  2. Heather

    I’ll read it! I am so put off by Catholicism (long story), but I “know” Catholicism so I’m fine with reading about it (and bitching about it while I’m reading, heh).

    If you recommend it this highly, I’ll read it.

  3. Theek @ Laotian Commotion

    Wow, after reading your review I definitely wanna check it out now! Nice words.

    Also, I never turn away any conversation, recommendations, etc even if it’s start with any religion even though I don’t care for it. *That’s* pretty pretentious.

  4. Leah

    I’m a little nervous about the bits about Catholicism because I have a lot of problems with it, but I’m willing to overcome that; this book sounds really fantastic and lovely!

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