When I visited New Orleans for the first time a few years ago, I took a walking tour of the Garden District that included Ann Rice's house (complete with black limo outside). I also noticed small outbuildings that were referred to as 'garconierres.' When I questioned their purpose, I was told that boys were housed away from the main house in order to sow their wild oats in private. They were encouraged to eat, drink, be merry, take mistresses, and generally get the devilment out of their systems before adulthood and the need to marry, begin a family, and take over their fathers' businesses became expected of them.
The Creoles played a large part in this aspect of New Orleans society, and our tour guide said the best novel detailing all the permutations of Creole life was this one, Ann Rice's The Feast of all Saints. So I bought it.
Like all of Rice's books, it's overly long and wordy: I understand it's part of her contract with her publishing house that they will not edit out or change one single word of her manuscript as submitted. That's a shame, because I feel this would have been a better book if it had been a shorter book. I found myself skimming whole pages in places.
Nonetheless, it's a terrific 19th Century story of the gens de couleur libre, or the Free People of Color who were destined to be a distinct race caught between two worlds: slaves and owners. It was the Creole women who frequently became the mistresses of the white men. Descended from a mixture of races including African, French, and Spanish, they played (and continue to play) a unique role in the history of New Orleans.
At its heart, The Feast of All Saints is a coming-of-age story of Marcel, the child of a Creole woman and a wealthy, white plantation owner who has promised to send him to Paris to complete his education when he comes of age. It's also the story of Marcel's younger sister, who could pass for white; his mentor Christophe, another free person of color, and a few others of his friends. It's a story of struggle against alienation and of complex, intertwined relationships.
It deserves slow and careful reading, for it's rich with detail and passion - but man, it sure is loooong and repetitive in many places.