Review Blog

Mar 21 2013

The Convent by Maureen McCarthy

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Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781742375045. 419 pages
(Ages: 15+) I was particularly attracted to this novel, as I believe Maureen McCarthy talks to teenagers with great purpose and understanding. Her novels highlight teenage tension and disorientation, but they also conclude with both honesty and optimism.
Having been educated at a Catholic girls' school, with the convent of nuns set amongst our school buildings, and, in the light of the recent church controversies, I was keen to see where McCarthy's story was to take me.
The subject, and indeed the title, may not initially attract many readers.  Today there are many young people who would not understand the term 'nun' or 'convent'. The picture of modern day Peach, however, on the front cover, walking towards the Abbotsford buildings works well, producing just the right amount of intrigue. Hopefully there will be many readers who will take up the invitation and read further.
Abbotsford becomes the centre stage for the lives of four women, each related by generation. Sadie, mainly through poverty is driven to give up her child to be cared for by the convent nuns. Ellen marries a farming man and nurtures seven children and her experiences at Abbotsford remain dear to her. Her only daughter, Cecilia, enters the convent and stays for ten years. Peach is her illegitimate daughter who is adopted soon after her birth. The storyline relies considerably on coincidence but McCarthy's realistic approach to the subject and the life she breathes into each of these women makes for great reading. She reveals the individual experiences of the women, highlighting the varying perspectives on religious life throughout the decades. What is important is that the modern day Peach is given the opportunity to learn about the past, acknowledging the pressures and prejudices which affected the women in her family.Choosing the religious life is by not means mocked in this book - it is put into perspective for the time. Ironically, Peach's friend, Det, in the modern day story feels similar pressures experienced by Cecilia, when she finds herself pregnant and believes that there is no one to help her.
With an interesting array of characters, a well structured set of four stories moving from a rather bewildering past to the modern day, and a great story line, The Convent is a good read.
Julie Wells

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