Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Best Books of 2005 - Fiction

In this House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

It is hard to believe that it is already three years since the Catholic Readers Society met at the Monastery for the first time to discuss Brideshead Revisited. Since then, we have met almost every month and read over twenty novels together, with forays into poetry, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and plays. We were initially inspired by the wonderful literary biography of sorts, Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce. Three years later, it is clear that our interest in Catholic literature and religious literature in general, as well as the pioneering work of the indefatiguable Pearce, is part of a larger upswell of interest, particularly in the twentieth-century Catholic classics (there are more of them than you might think at first!).

This year, I was nearly unable to decide which of two books to name as the best that we read. Finally, I have to go with a book that so realistically captured life in the cloister that I hope to reread it several times for Godden's insights (she herself was a friend of the nuns at Stanbrook Abbey). We have even talked about assigning it to be read in the novitiate.

The book is especially timely in that it deals with the struggles of a 'late' vocation. The book is set in the mid-twentieth century when such late entries were relatively rare. Today they are the norm--I entered at age 27 and was considered very young. However, the community is the real protagonist, as it should be in a Benedictine monastery. The individual nuns have memorable personalities, and the dynamics of community life portrayed between them are stunningly authentic.

On occasion, Godden's prose is a bit sweet for my taste, a slight defect that made me consider instead The Teutonic Knights by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a brawny jaunt through fourteenth century Poland, Germany and Lithuania. If you have heard something of the greatness of Sienkiewicz, this is a great place to start, since his masterpiece historical trilogy runs to something like 2400 pages. I was even able to overlook the dastardly portrayal of the Germans, despite my being half German myself. Then again, these were mainly Prussians who weren't always much liked by my Bavarian ancestors.

I highly recommend either!

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