Perhaps I can return the favour by telling you about a book which has meant more to me than I can easily express. Its author was Rumer Godden, probably not as widely read as she used to be, but very well worth discovering. In a long writing career she wrote over 60 books and she was widely praised for her vivid, highly atmospheric writing, especially in her works set in India. A number of her novels were made into successful films, including Black Narcissus, The River and Greengage Summer.
The book I want to write about isn’t one of her best-known works, though it too is a good read, but to me it’s so much more. Its title is In This House Of Brede and it tells the story of a woman in her 40s, who gives up a very successful career to become a Benedictine nun. It is beautifully written, well characterised, and extraordinarily absorbing in its portrayal of a very different and demanding way of life.
I first read it in 1975, at a time when I was neither a church-goer nor even a nominal Christian. I hadn’t been to church, other than for weddings and funerals, for nearly 10 years and wasn’t in the least interested in changing that situation. It was the purest serendipity that led to my picking up the book in the first place. It was lunchtime, it was raining, and I wanted something to read while I ate my sandwiches in the staffroom of the library where I worked. After a hasty search along the fiction shelves, my eye fell on a book on display, which I didn’t remember having seen before. It looked different enough to catch my interest and make me decide to read it over lunch. The rest, as they say, is history.
Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down. I devoured it, reading late into the night, even though I had to get up early for work the next day. Even before I finished it, I knew that my world-view had altered. For the first time in my life I realised that faith isn’t just something believed in the head, but something that has to be lived out, something that changes people profoundly, and, hopefully, for ever. This realisation didn’t immediately make me a Christian, but it was the first small step on a road which led me within a year to confirmation in the Anglican church and years later, after many twists and turns, to ordination and eventually to full-time parish ministry.
As a librarian, I knew in theory the ability of books to change lives. Now, as a retired parish priest, I can testify from my own experience just how profound this change can be. Books are powerful, otherwise why would oppressive regimes try to ban them? Books are powerful and to be treasured and my copy of In This House Of Brede is very treasured indeed.
Image via Wylio
Image via Wylio