One of the nice side effects of becoming Catholic is that I have opened up my reading horizons. Most often I would read from SF and Fantasy, then with a smattering of military fiction, horror, suspected novels, and an occasional mystery and perhaps whatever might catch my eye in the new book stack at the library. Since my conversion I have opened up to a much wider world of literature based on recommendations from other Catholics.
I just finished In This House Of Brede by Rumer Godden and I was just about stunned at how good of a novel this is. The story takes place in a made-up Benedictine abbey in England as a career women finds she has a vocation and leaves her successful career behind her to become a nun. This book is certainly no pious stereotype of perfect contemplative nuns, but instead a book that reads more like an autobiography than a novel. The characters in the story are so real that you forget you are reading a novel. From the abbess down to the novices each person described could easily find their counterpart in real life.
Rumer Godden who his the author os some sixty books wrote this book after her conversion to Catholicism and spent three years living outside of a Benedictine abbey researching for this book. Her research certainly pays off because there is such an authenticity to her description of the Benedictine life and the struggles among the nuns to grow in holiness. There is also much wisdom in the book given as advice among the nuns that shows the author must have had a very deep understanding of living the spiritual life. The prose in the book is just a joy to read and there were many points where I dog-eared a page to be able to go back to something that was written. This is something that I pretty much never do with fiction. At one point she explains to one of her subordinates about being enclosed in the abbey.
"Enclosed?" this unfamiliar word seemed to ring in Penny’s ears. "You mea-shut up?"
"Not shut up. The walls are not to keep us in but to keep you out."
"An enclosed order is like a kind of power house, " said Mrs. Talbot. "A powerhouse of prayer; you protect a power house not to enclose the power, but to stop unauthorized people getting in to hinder its working."
This book being written in the aftermath of the Vatican Council you also get some of the feel in the abbey of some of the whirlwind of changes that were affecting religious life, though you only get the feel of this towards the very end of the book. But you certainly get the idea that the author was less than pleased with some of the changes for change sake made. One of the nuns laments and dreads the idea of the priest praying Mass facing the community saying it will be as if the priest is giving a performance and not leading us to God as he faces the altar. Though the majority of the book does not give in to criticisms but the daily life and difficulties of these nuns in community.
This is a great novel from a wonderful writer and one I look forward to reading more of.
Julie from Happy Catholic has been reading from another of the author’s books called China Court. Julie got permission to read this on her Forgotten Classics podcast even though the book is still in copyright. Check it out here .