We are in rural France, in a crumbling grey-stone convent inhabited by three elderly nuns as they make themselves ready to leave the building that has been their home for decades. Once an industrious and peaceful cloister of nuns of all ages, the numbers have dwindled over the years until only Sisters Bernard, Therese and Marie remain. The convent has been more than a home to these three elderly nuns: it has been their place of worship, their workplace and it has sheltered them from the more unpleasant aspects of the modern world; to leave the convent, therefore, is a huge undertaking, not least for our main protagonist, Sister Bernard, who is now in her nineties.
The story moves backwards and forwards in time as we read of how Sister Bernard entered the convent as a simple-minded young woman who had always heard the unremitting voice of God in her head and we learn that: "Even at thirty, in her prime, she was not beautiful. Her hair was already thin and her skin faded, her hands were wretched. No one spoke to her much, except God." And it is when Sister Bernard is at the so called prime of her life, when the convent is occupied by German troops, that she succumbs to the attentions of a young soldier (not a spoiler, we learn this very early on in the story) which results in an act of betrayal that has far reaching consequences.
This is a powerful, original and impressive novel that looks at the terrible damage that can be inflicted in the name of love. Jacqueline Yallop's prose flows elegantly but this isn't a smoothly beguiling story and if you want a light read for bedtime, then this isn't it. 'Obedience' is an unsettling, poignant and intense read which I found thought-provoking and engrossing and I am now interested in looking at her previous novel: Kissing Alice
which also appears rather intriguing.