Although there are some similarities between Rumer Godden’s books, In This House of Brede (1969) and Black Narcissus (1939), the settings are poles apart. Both depict a community of nuns; the former in a traditional setting in a convent in England, and the latter, a small group in Mopu, a remote village in the Himalayas. The disparate settings makes for two very different stories.
Rumer Godden converted to Catholicism in 1957 after studying the great religions of the world and this decision is reflected in the narrative of In This House of Brede.
Black Narcissus is permeated with an ethereal sense of the spiritual climate of India and much that happens in the book is precipitated by this atmosphere. A group of nuns set out from Darjeeling to establish a school and medical centre in Mopu and everything they attempt is hampered by this prevailing climate. The former palace they are to use for their home and work was once a harem. A group of Brothers who had been there before them, set up a school, but left after only five months.
There are misunderstandings with the villagers, friction between the nuns, conflict with Mr. Dean, the hard drinking English agent, who acted for the owner of the palace. The story is a curious blend of paradoxes and before long, antagonistic forces erupt with tragic consequences.
Godden spent most of her childhood in India and returned to live there as an adult. She helps her readers to experience the India that she knew so well and her descriptions of the landscape capture the beauty and the harshness of the Himalayas. Describing the Himalayan snows behind and above the forest where it rose to bare and bony ridges she writes:
As usual, the author’s writing is crisp and sparse, but highlighted by skilful personification and metaphor. She believed that modern writers used too many words and her own practice was to write by hand to allow time for her thoughts to disentangle themselves.
Brona @ This Reading Life is hosting a Rumer Godden Reading Week. I enjoyed this book very much although my favourite of the two is In This House of Brede. Now I’m reading Kingfishers Catch Fire, another of Godden’s books set in India.