Rumer Godden spent five years writing In this House of Brede and she said they were "among the richest and most rewarding" of her life. Her close and very personal contact with the Benedictine community at Stanbrook Abbey meant that she gained access to many of the nuns on her regular visits, and was given permission to observe all services and ceremonies. Her research into Benedictine history, tradition, liturgy and music was detailed and extensive, and the book is the richer for it.
When asked why she chose the religious life as the subject for a novel, she recalled, "My writing self, which is the more truthful, answered: Because nuns are dramatic. Theirs is the greatest love story in the world." It is a dramatic and utterly gripping story she has told, one which sheds so much light on a way of life about which we perhaps know a little, or have certain preconceptions, and which illuminates with great empathy, not to mention the novelist's skill.
As a story, I felt it was at its most successful when within the abbey walls, the narrative strands which took us into the outside world seemed, in comparison, rather less assured and more contrived on occasions, but in its depiction of a life underpinned by simplicity, humility, clarity, selflessness and common purpose it was masterly.
What did you think of it?