Obedience by Jacqueline YallopTuesday, January 31, 2012
In a convent in rural France, three ageing nuns remain. Cloistered within her failing faith and her failing body, Sister Bernard navigates each day by the simple markers domesticity; but when the convent is threatened with closure the soft threads of piety and daily existence unravel. What lies beneath are Sister Bernard's terrible memories of wartime disgrace; of a German soldiers' bet turning lust into a love that deafened the heavens, of the full horror of both war and motherhood, and of a furious God who begun to sulk. Obedience is the story of a woman in a spinning world, and her attempts to keep her bearings. It draws its power from the grey spaces between guilt and innocence, the power of memory and how the aching need to love, and be loved, can cause good people to do terrible things.
In 20th century France, an ancient convent is scheduled to be forever closed. Only three, elderly nuns, who have lived nearly their entire lives in the confines of its cloister, remain to pack things up and prepare to move on to new living arrangements. Sister Marie suffers from dementia and is unable to comprehend the life-altering move she must soon make. Sister Therese is eager to embrace the future and opt for less restrictive life. Sister Bernard has lived almost 75 years in the convent. Memories of the past haunt her, sweeping the reader into a time long forgotten; when the war forever altered her life and Germans occupied the convent.
Sister Bernard hears the voice of God and she strives to heed it. As a young nun, she is naive and slow to adapt to cloistered life. When one of the young German soldiers occupying the convent shows an interest in her, God stops talking to her. Sister Bernard is lured by the sweet young man’s attentions. But what she doesn’t know is that his interest is merely to win a wager. Nevertheless, she begins to meet with him in secret and is soon seduced by him, breaking her vow of chastity. As their relationship progresses, she soon betrays others and the impact will be felt for generations to come.
This passionate, but powerful story explores forbidden love and the loss of innocence. The author delves deep into the personality of each character, leaving the reader with a sense of their imperfections. Their complexities are revealed through a smooth narrative, filled with vivid details and deep instrospection.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for its uniqueness, complexity, and its ability to provoke thought. The characters remained in my thoughts long after I finished reading it, a testament to the powerful prose of the author. This gut-wrenching tale makes for great fiction, especially for those who like novels that explore the human spirit with all its sins and sorrows. I highly recommend it.