A nun falls from grace in Occupied France, and the ripples extend across generations and decades, in the measured U.S. debut of a perceptive British writer.
Pieced together like a mosaic, Yallop’s deceptively low-key, sometimes-oblique story of confused passion proceeds at its own thoughtful pace. Its world is a convent in an unnamed French village, its timescale more than half a century, starting during World War II when 30-year-old Sister Bernard is ruined by her affair with a German soldier. In her blind rapture, she gives him the name of a Resistance figure, thereby bringing torture and death to the small community. Later she gives birth to a boy. Many years afterward, now in her 90s, Sister Bernard is one of a handful of nuns leaving the convent as it closes. Although her shameful past still lives on in the collective memory, her life is about hoping to hear again the voice of God, once a constant accompaniment, and waiting for the visit of a newly discovered relative. Blessed or cursed, Sister Bernard spends her final days reaching for her God while still inextricably devoted to her distant lover.
Intense, sometimes to the point of delirium, Yallop’s exploration of the space between innocence and guilt, of complicity and delusion has a lingering power for readers prepared to be patient.