I promised Esther a review of this book by Nancy Klein Maguire. Well, what can I say? It was the sort of book that, once I finished it, I wanted to start all over again to pick up any details I might have missed. It was also the sort of book that makes me feel torn between wanting to keep it for myself and wanting to pass it on and let someone else enjoy it. It is now in the possession of my sister-in-law's father, and I'm in the market for another copy!
What makes it such a great book? Well, it's a fascinating account of a way of life of which I previously knew nothing. It doesn't disguise the hardships or the strangeness of the Carthusian life, but it is written with a loving reverence for their traditions by someone who seems to feel a genuine rapport with the people whose lives and thoughts she describes. She really gets into their skin and explains both their pleasures and their pain with affection and understanding.
The Carthusian life pre-Vatican II was a life which few could tolerate, and of the five novices whose lives the book follows, only one remained in the monastery - but all felt that the Carthusian experience shaped their lives. A book which could have become a condemnation of a way of life that churned people up and spat them out is instead an exploration of where they succeeded, what they hoped to get out of the life, what they actually did get out of it, and why four of them ended up being unable to stay.
The author spent several years researching the book, and it eventually came out the year after Philip Groning's film 'Into Great Silence'. I am now very keen to see this film, which was recently reviewed (and equally highly recommended) by Dad With Noisy Kids.