By Rumer Godden
Rated 5 Stars
My Keeper Shelf
I have loved this book for years. Something about it makes me pick it up every now and again so that I can slip back into the serene and comforting atmosphere of Brede.
Rumer Godden has woven an intricate story about an odd subject - contemplative nuns! - and, instead of following a strict chronological order - follows the development and growth of many of the nuns. Many of the nuns - and even the non-nuns - struggle with their own personal crises and flaws. Dame Philippa learns to be patient and to overcome the tragedy of her past. Abbess Catherine learns to lead, to reach out to people, and to trust in herself and in providence. Sister Cecily accepts her own beauty - both of body and of soul - and takes responsibility for it rather than turning away from people and hurting them. Mrs. Scallon learns to accept her daughter's decision and in some ways even appreciates it. Penny and Donald put their priorities in order and strengthen their marriage. Dame Agnes learns to be less critical and more loving; she acknowledges the worth of others. Dame Veronica confesses what her pride has compelled her to do and finally tells the truth. Dom Gervase recovers his confidence and can go back into the world. Each character is developed with love; each character is different (although a surprising number of them seem to be extremely well read); each character grows. We feel with them through their tears and smiles, sorrows and joys, despairs and yes, even triumphs - although the triumphs may be on a quieter scale than one finds in most other novels.
Yet, despite these personal crises, the book has an overarching serenity, possibly because all the nuns are devoted to the same end - praising their God - they all have vocations. Godden's writing, rich with detail, unstinting in her choice of words, leads us through the days and seasons and years of the contemplative life, so that we, the readers, also experience the garden in the garth, the moor hens in the dingle, the fresh air and the cries of the seagulls from Brede's tower, as well as the liturgical cycle in the church.
At the end of the novel, I, like Philippa Talbot, am likewise sorry that I must leave This House of Brede. I put it back on my keeper shelf - but I know I can pick it up again and re-enter the enclosure doors, and again recover a measure of peace.