Thursday, April 22, 2010
Rated 4 Stars
This moving and subtle tale both embodies and confirms the enduring power of language. Gwynneve (Gwi-NEEV) is raised in a village of fishermen and pigkeepers at the height of Ireland's transition from Paganism to Christianity. All around her the new doctrines of Patrick and the "tonsured men" are inexorably driving out the old Druid ways. When Gwynneve loses the two figures she loved the most—her mother succumbing to disease, her outspoken Druid teacher abducted by his enemies—she leaves her village and finally takes refuge in the convent of Saint Brigit. Of her past life and loves she retains only intangibles: her mother's love of nature and independent mind, her teacher's gift of literacy and addiction to truth. Clinging to the one constant and comforting force in her life—the power of words, and their offer of immortality to those who set them down—she records her memories surreptitiously, interrupting her assigned tasks of transcribing Patrick and Augustine. But disturbing events from the present keep intervening. Finally, her headstrong ways and growing criticism of the monastery's new abbot lead to the accusation that she consorts with demons. The story's tragic conclusion confirms both Gwynneve's fears and her powers: centuries after she and her tormentors sink back into the Irish earth, her words remain to haunt and inspire us.