Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts is the third novel in Sarah Dunant's Renaissance Trilogy (following on from The Birth of Venus and In The Company of The Courtesan) and is set in the cloistered and isolated world of a 16th century Benedictine convent. The rising cost of providing a dowry for noble daughters meant that many families sent their daughters to become Brides of Christ, often against their will. In other cases, disabled and handicapped noblewomen found homes in convents.

The convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrarra has just accepted its newest novice, the angelically-voiced Serafina. Except Serafina does not want to be there and devotes all her energies to escape. The dispensary mistress, Zuana, is appointed to bring this troubled soul into the fold, thus bringing Zuana firmly into the political life of the convent.

Dunant paints a fascinating post of a world where many intelligent and religious spent their lives cloistered together. The artistic devote their time to the pursuit of music, singing and other activites, but these "frivolous" activities are under threat from stern reforms sweeping through the outside world. It is against this backdrop that the abbess hopes to use the amazing voice of Serafina to bring fame to the convent, but Serafina has her own plans. Interal divisions and strife within the convent are also conspiring to use Serafina for their own ends.

The plot is rich and layered which keeps the reader engrossed and Dunant brings the convent world to glorious, breathing life. There is an intriguing dichotomy in this small female world which is in turn subject to the whims of the external male-dominated world. Thoroughly well recommended reading.

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