This week, I’m continuing my exploration of favorite authors’ backlists by picking up In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.
Godden’s 1945 novel, Take Three Tenses, was one of my Top Ten Books in 2014 as well as a recommendation from Jo Walton in her book, What Makes This Book So Great. It was a short, very feminist book about the life of a house over 100 years. (Check out this interesting publisher’s note from the wartime printing).
I skipped ahead over 20 years of Godden’s work when I opened In This House of Brede, which is a thick novel about the lives of Benedictine nuns. It was a very different experience, and one that was probably colored by my expectations from Take Three Tenses
In This House of Brede could easily be a TV miniseries. Although there is an overarching plot in the spiritual development of Dame Phillippa the executive-turned-nun, this book is really a string of subplots involving scandal, money troubles, intrigue, and personal crises among the nuns. There’s also a lot of info-dumping about how a Benedictine monastery works, and about the changes taking place in the Catholic church in the 1950s.
I was initially intrigued by Dame Phillippa’s story, because she started as an executive-level businesswoman (type unspecified) in her 40’s. Based on my expectations from Take Three Tenses, I expected this very feminist character to further develop her leadership skills when she became a nun, and triumph in that way. Nope – this was primarily a book about spiritual development, and so instead, she grows in humility and patience while working on her personal issues. Plus, she does this somewhat in the background, because there’s so much other drama going on around her. By the end of the book, her narrative has almost been dropped, and is wrapped up for a hasty conclusion.
In the end, I’m not warning anyone off of In This House of Brede. Just don’t read it because you loved Take Three Tenses. If you are looking for entertainment in the form of a dramatic, soap-y read about Benedictine nuns, this is a good offering.