Chosen for February by Elaine Simpson-Long
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
I was a convent school girl and I remember very well the sick feeling of horror that crept over me when the Reverend Mother of our school announced, with a beaming smile, that one of our contemporaries had been called to God and had taken the veil in an enclosed order. When I opened this book, which begins with the hysterical screams and panic of the new novice, I felt the same feeling creep over me and my sympathies were totally engaged.
Suora Zuana, the nun who runs the dispensary is given Serafina as an apprentice a friendship grows between them. This is watched closely and jealously by the novice mistress, Suora Umiliana, who is a crusader for stricter piety, and the Abbess, Madonna Chiara who has her own hidden agenda.
The entire story is set in the enclosed walls of the convent and the sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming. She plans to find a way to contact her lover, her music teacher, and realises the way to let him know that she is alive, is by the use of her voice. After singing at mass where the public are present she sings so beautifully that a member of the congregation shouts 'Brava'. She recognises it is the voice of her lover and redoubles her plans to escape.
I cannot continue much further without giving away the plot, the twists and turns and outcome and I would hate to do that, as it is not clear until the very last few pages. The politicking inside the convent walls is virulent and cloaked under a front of piety and religious belief when really it is a power struggle, pure and simple. I have not read any of Sarah Dunant's books though I have often picked them up and looked at them and then put them down again. Trying to think of a reason for this, and I think it is because my first glance showed that much of the writing is in the present tense which I find difficult to get on with - don't know why, but as quite a few books I have read over the last year have been in this format, I have had to get used to it. I now find it does not upset me as it used to and, indeed, after a while you do not notice it and the change from present to past tense creates a tension all of its own.
I sat up late to finish it and the impression it has made on me has stayed with me and caused me some little discomfort.
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