I ordered In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, because I just couldn’t NOT order it with the gift cards we received for Christmas. It sat on the top shelf of my to-read bookcase for a few months before I decided that, whatever pull the other books may have on me, it needed to be read NEXT.
The timing was just right. I stayed up late, I lived in another world for at least a week, and I enjoyed it as I have enjoyed other great books (including China Court, my introduction to Rumer Godden’s writing).
What makes it great? I’ve been asking myself that for the last month, waiting to have the time to write this review.
My feeling that it’s great was intuitive at first, which doesn’t make for the kind of review this book deserves. Me saying “Ooo, you’ll love it” might not be true, and might not encourage you to dig in and read it.
I have come up with three things I liked about In This House of Brede, things that are tangible and that I can put my finger on (in the interest of finally getting this review published): the characters are REAL; the places are characters too; and the writing is impeccable.
The characters are among my favorites ever. From my love affair with Little Women in fourth grade (and the subsequent once-a-year readings that took me through junior high), where I found a soul sister in Jo, a little sister in Beth, a baffling older role model in Meg, and a kindred spirit in Amy, I found myself delighted and enamored with Godden’s cast in Brede. There’s Abbess Catherine, the reluctant leader who I think would commiserate with me when I so often find myself reminded that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. Dame Philippa, the businesswoman-turned-nun, is somehow realistic, even as she seems unlikely at first glance.
The monastery, it turns out, is like any group of people – full of a little of this and a little of that, people with strong opinions and others with clashing talents. Just how interesting could 638 pages about a nunnery be? I stopped wondering about three words into the book.
Godden’s writing turns the places into major characters (as, of course, they ARE, but I still so SO enjoy this about her books), and she weaves the Brede monastery – its history and its long life – into the commentary and the very plot of this book. This was one of my favorite aspects of China Court, and (bit of a repeater here, but it bears repeating) THAT was the book that convinced me to buckle down to enjoy Brede. (I mentioned China Court here and reviewed it briefly here.)
Godden is a master storyteller. I didn’t think I would be very interested in monastery life. I mean, except for being a woman myself, just how much do I have in common with a bunch of cloistered nuns? I’m in the throes of motherhood of little ones, working full-time, immersed in a different century in a different country.
And that’s just it. Godden pulled me in, softly. She didn’t do a thing, except make me love her characters. They’re HUMAN, you see. It’s not just that they’re believable. It’s that I found myself walking through my day and thinking something crazy like, “Sister Philippa appreciate this ironic moment in the parish office.” I know that doesn’t sound completely sane of me, and it didn’t feel completely sane as it happened.
There is a lot more that I could say about this book – it’s considered a classic for many, many reasons. But why believe a blatherer like me? Go read it for yourself. Then report back, would you? I’d love to know what YOU thought of a book that I expect to hold on to for at least as long as I’ve had that original copy of Little Women.