Having just read a biography of Rumer Godden I thought a novel of hers might be a good choice for the Book Group. The one with which she made her name was Black Narcissus, but it's a later book I've chosen, also a huge popular success, and a critical one, too.
First published in1969, In this House of Brede was the product of five years of painstaking research and writing, and is its author's longest and most complex book. Here's the blurb:
"Bruised by tragedy, Philippa Talbot leaves a successful career in the Civil Service for a new calling. She joins an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns. In this small community of fewer than one hundred women, she soon discovers all the human frailties: jealousy, love, despair. But each crisis of heart and conscience is guided by the compassion and intelligence of the Abbess and by the Sisters' shared bond of faith and ritual. Away from the world, and yet at one with it, Philippa must learn to forgive and forget her past."
Here's a passage from Anne Chisholm's biography:
"Brede did seem to be blessed: everyone who read it before publication was impressed by it. A hint of amazement is sometimes discernible behind the compliments... [Rumer's] agent told her it was a triumph; Macmillan were delighted, and [the editorial director of her American publisher] wrote from New York to tell Rumer he found the book 'absolutely extraordinary ... I would have been incredulous had anyone told me how terribly involved with and concerned for a community of Benedictine nuns I could become ...' "
Rumer's US advance was $150,000, the equivalent, apparently, of just under $1,000,000 today, and her publishers' faith in the book was justified by its sales. Structurally, it is her most ambitious work - Anne Chisholm tells us - spanning nearly twenty years and dealing with two dozen major characters (it's satisfyingly chunky at around 500 pages in the Virago paperback edition). Although it was made into a film starring Diana Rigg, that "has not worn well" (AC again), and Rumer did not care for it. I hope our reaction to the book will be a positive one, and I've slotted it into the calendar for discussion from Saturday, 26th. April.
Details of our February and March books are given here, and I hope you'll join us to read some or all of our next three titles; you'd be very welcome.