August 21, 2009

Review: Sacred Hearts

Sacred Hearts
by Sarah Dunant

"By the second half of the sixteenth century, the price of wedding dowries had risen so sharply within Catholic Europe that most noble families could not afford to marry off more than one daughter. The remaining young women were dispatched - for a much lesser price - to convents. Historians estimate that in the great towns and city-states of Italy, up to half of all noblewomen became nuns. Not all of them went willingly...
...This story tales place in the northern Italian city of Ferrara in 1570. in the convent of Santa Caterina."

I, like many of you, decided recently that I was tired of reading the same ARCs as everyone else and vowed to stop requesting more. This one was an exception. I loved the graceful beauty of the cover but I didn't know, or possibly forgot, what it was about. When I read the above paragraph on the first page my interest was piqued.

When we are in school we are taught about vocabulary. Our teachers, at least the good ones, explained to us that there are many words to describe the same thing but that some are more precise while others are overused and boring. There is a difference between saying something is good and saying something pleasing, splendid or valuable. Durant's words are precise and expressive. They are never difficult to understand; on the contrary, they bring an exact understanding of what she wants to say. And the language suits each character. It is not hard to believe that a nun that works in a dispensary, reading books about various herbs and remedies, would have a vast vocabulary but speak in an understated manner.

It is the characters that are the key to this book. They are so thoroughly well drawn, along with the setting and historical period, that one could not help but to want to spend time with them and know how they will handle an unexpected dilemma within the walls of the nunnery. With the character of Serafina there is a lot of conflict and all around havoc. She effects the different nuns in different ways. It felt authentic. The more I read the more I wondered what was to happen next as the chances of a satisfying ending seemed more and more out of reach. The stage was set superbly in those first 300 pages.

But then...
but then something changed. The characters natures altered. Some became unrecognizable. The story took a turn that I never would have guessed because it went against the characters initial morals. Murder and blackmail? In a nunnery? It became far fetched. I was disappointed. I had taken such a fancy to this book.

I still think it was a thoroughly researched books with much in it to entertain. Just expect the unexpected in that last part. By the way, it did have a satisfying ending; I just felt that it lost some of it's integrity to get there.

One word review:


bermudaonion said...

It almost sounds like it could have been edited better. Thanks for the review.

Lezlie said...

Excellent, excellent review! My favorite parts had to do with convent life. I adored that aspect of the book.


Petunia said...

Bermuda Onion-It couldn't have hurt.

Lezlie-I did too. That part was very well imagined and almost romantic in its depiction of peace and devotion.

Jenny said...

I sort of love the idea of murder and blackmail in a nunnery - but I hate an inconsistent ending. I will still probably try and get hold of this when it comes out properly, because it still sounds (mostly) wonderful.

Zibilee said...

I felt much the same as you did towards this book. Although I really liked it, the last third sort of sagged for me, and I felt that the ending was had been a little too contrived. Great review, very succinct and expressive.