In Terrell’s debut novel based on a true story, three nuns stand up to the Catholic Church for the sake of their small Irish village.
The plot centers on the Sisters of Infinite Grace’s search for a new religious mission when their bishop attempts to seize their convent in Donadon, a small coastal town in Ireland. The convent has dwindled to three remaining nuns: Sister Benedict, a former schoolteacher and current leader of the sisters; Sister Edgar, the youngest and feistiest of the three; and Sister Jerome, a placid, pious woman who says she receives visions from God. When the bishop demands that the sisters leave their convent so that the church can repurpose it as a monastery, they’re initially at a loss as to where to go and what to do. Then Sister Jerome receives a vision of a new seaside hotel that would enrich the Donadon economy. The first half of the book follows their efforts to make that vision a reality. With the help of the villagers and a kindhearted investor, Patrick Flynn, the sisters sell their land to make way for the hotel’s development, thwarting the bishop’s plans. The novel’s second half follows the nuns on a pilgrimage to Rome, where they hope the pope will give them a new mission now that their days in Donadon are coming to a close. But then the pope himself accuses the nuns of being “attaccabrighi,” or “troublemakers.” The sisters soon find themselves in a battle against the institutional infrastructure of Catholicism itself. Unfortunately, the overall plot moves in fits and starts, depriving the novel of the inherent drama of this theme. Lengthy descriptions of the sisters’ meals and excessive haggling over real estate slow the story’s progression, and characters develop little beyond a few defining traits, such as Edgar’s defiance or Jerome’s piety. Nonetheless, Terrell enriches the story with local flavor, including Irish dialect (“This devil of a holy man will not feckin’ have the best of Patrick Flynn”) and culture, which will please readers interested in the region; for example, the nuns proudly take a ferry named for the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and the author makes a point of showing characters drinking Guinness beer throughout.The novel may also interest those who like the politics of the Catholic Church.
An uneven novel about three women following God’s path in spite of institutional obstacles.