Unbelievably, with five hours in the car a few weekends ago, I read all 400 pages of Vigil: A Novel, by Cecilia Samartin.
First, I have to be honest: I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend this book. I want to be frank about that. I think the writing is great, but I have some issues with the morals.
That said, I do think it’s a good read, with some caveats. One caveat is that this isn’t for young readers. AT ALL. Another caveat is that there’s some explicit material.
In this book, we find out about young Ana’s tragic youth. There’s a backdrop of El Salvadoran history that I appreciated, and a segue to a Catholic convent that felt real. In fact, I thought the Catholic parts of this novel were right on target…to a point.
She makes it to the United States, makes her home in a convent, and right before she’s set to make her vows in that convent, gets an assignment to be a nanny. I thought I knew where it was going, but it didn’t turn into Sound of Music, and the writing didn’t stop being flawless.
The point that made me stumble and sputter, came near the end of the book, when we find out that Ana’s going to have a chance to really be in love. It’s an interesting point, a point where there’s a choice the author had to make about how to deal with some morals. I suppose it was the point at which the novel turned into a romance.
I’m not a reader of romances, though, I’ll admit, I am a hopeless romantic. (That means I should read Georgette Heyer someday, right?)
To keep this review mostly spoiler-free, let’s just say I didn’t agree with how the author resolved things.
I know, life is like that. I know, sometimes we don’t get the “correct” resolutions to moral dilemmas.
Without naming specifics (though I will in the comments, so a big spoiler alert there), I contend that a practicing Catholic character — one who was discerning a call to religious life in the early parts of the book, one who was supposed to be still faithful to her faith and the teachings of the Church — might not have immediately made the decisions she did.
Or maybe she would. We’re all human, right?
But isn’t the point of literature to show us the ideal, or, lacking the ideal, to show us how we go about our lives keeping the bright light of God’s will in front of us to guide us?
So. What do you think? Have you read this book? Will you read this book? If you do, please let me know what you think. More of my thoughts (spoilers!) in the comments.
The first part of the book was fabulous, and I loved it. I was sucked right in to the El Salvador tragedy, into Ana’s time at the convent. I suspect Ms. Samartin is Catholic or has really done her research.
In fact, I was pretty OK with the book, even with one section that seemed a little explicit (because maybe I’m just a prude, let’s face it, and maybe that added to the story…I’ll take that hit), until the end.
I’ve been thinking about how to word this, but I’m still not there. Here’s my first attempt: I’m OK with Ana being in love with Adam. That makes sense, and I can even stomach it. Lillian was, well, pretty worthless, and yet, Ana always approaches her with love. There’s a big lesson there for all of us. I loved this theme underlying everything.
And then…Lillian leaves and…Ana just starts sleeping with him? I know, it didn’t happen THAT quickly, but…it felt like this foundation that was built in the book, morals that I was really behind, were not true or real. It seemed to me that all of a sudden, feelings were enough, when throughout the entire book, we have the clear message that feelings are not enough.
But…I’m conflicted on this too. I don’t agree with this, and yet I have found myself wondering today if I should read the discussion questions and the bio with the author. Maybe that was a point the author was trying to make.
I did enjoy the book. But I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this book just on the writing.
If the novel supports immoral behaviour (ie. it is not just depicting it, but it is romanticizing it or glorifying it) then it may not be good to recommend on that merit, even if the writing is very good.
I don’t think that having and following proper moral values are necessary for a good book; however, I think characters should be true to who they are. Unless we are told about all sorts of internal conflicts and questions about God/faith, it isn’t reasonable to think that a character who is living a Catholic lifestyle and trying to serve God is, at the drop of a hat, going to start bedhopping.