A quiet, intense religious novel from a Parisian banker: the Abbot of La Trappe--a French monastery of Cistercian brothers--recalls the sad case of novice ""Cosmas"" in 1938 (when the Abbot was ""Novice Master""). Jean, 19-year-old son of a philandering veterinarian, in many ways seems ""a born monk"" when he first comes to La Trappe and becomes Brother Cosmas--""but was Cosmas really called to religious life? No other question has ever disturbed me so much."" Cosmas' problem, you see, is the inability ""to accept human realities"": looking for a completely unearthly existence at the monastery, he is repelled by the Trappists' business activities, by noise, by a Brother's passion for chocolate, by fights, by harsh penances, by the monks' inadequate fervor. ""I didn't think that. . . God would be so absent,"" he says--and he has something of a nervous breakdown, followed by a period back in the real world. But when he returns, spiritually refreshed, Cosmas finds himself again shaken, again needing to get away from the constant disillusionment. This time, however, the narrator/Novice Master reluctantly delivers an ultimatum: ""if you persist in your belief that you must leave once again for a brief spell. . . then it would be more sensible and honest to think in terms of a final departure."" And Cosmas then flees, even while insisting that ""my vocation is unshakable"" and planning to return soon to make the total commitment demanded by the Novice Master. ""Had I, once again, bungled my part in the exchange of love between God and Cosmas?"" wonders the narrator--a concern that escalates when Cosmas is found unexplainably dead in the snow nearby La Trappe. ""If Cosmas, as he was convinced to the end, really was destined to serve God in the habit of a Cistercian, why had the grace to realize this vocation been withheld from him?"" On the other hand, the mortally ill Abbot reassures the Novice Master: ""the fact that our Brother Cosmas died when he did reveals the Lord's infinite mercy. . . . He died when he was on his way to La Trappe yet again, and thus gave further proof of his fidelity; but he died before he had to face his weakness yet again. . . ."" With effective glimpses of Trappist life--a thoughtful, nicely underwritten and crisply unpretentious exploration of that weighty matter of ""vocation.