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The Abbess of Crewe: A Modern Morality Tale Paperback – 2 Aug 1995


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Product details

  • Paperback: 108 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (2 Aug. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811212963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811212960
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 0.1 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 116,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
'WHAT is wrong, Sister Winifrede,' says the Abbess, clear and loud to the receptive air, 'with the traditional keyhole method?' Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this sly, crafty, incisive little book. It is extremely enjoyable to read, and not just because of it's comic moments (which are plentiful). A lot of the enjoyment is just pure glee at Spark's imagination and creativity with language. She is writing at a moment in history (post-Watergate) when the possibilities of electronic surveillance are in the public mind. So she fuses this subject with the ultimate surveillancer: God. Or rather, His representatives at Crewe Abbey. At the same time (1974), the hippie era had come to an end, and Peace and Free Love had not proved to be 'all you need'. So Spark also draws this theme into this novella.

This is not a parody of 'real' religious communities, as I see it. It's definitely not an anti-religious book. It's a book very much about people: their parochial concerns; power corrupted, ego-driven, snobbish and high-handed.

One community is in schism: a popular young nun has gathered around her a clique under her banner of Free Love. So popular is she becoming that the recently open position of Abbess of the convent is feared to be within her grasp. So her main competitor (and her superior in several senses) decides to enlist the aid of electronic surveillance equipment - made in the Abbey's admired workshops - to listen in to all the nuns' conversations...

This book is as mildly surreal and somewhat Gothic as it sounds - there is a magical realism at play here years before that form became a cause celebre. But it is not so surreal as to be hallucinatory or ridiculous. Spark is very clever at keeping everything just within the bounds of feasibility, so that you just marvel at her originality and playfulness.

If you enjoyed Hilary Mantel's 'Fludd' you will definitely enjoy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By talmine on 16 Jan. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is rightly described as a satirical fantasy. The reader may benefit by Googling "A typical day at the Monastery Benedictine nuns of Holy Trinity ..." This describes the daily timetable for prayers, from Vigils (06.00) to Compline(20.15).

The Abbess Hildegarde is newly dead ... and the Abbey is waiting for the new Abbess to be elected. Alexandra, the Sub Prioress is determined to win ...

Meanwhile Sister felicity jumps from her window on to the haycart pulled up below and runs to meet her Jesuit from the nearby Monastery.

"They can't possibly know the sewing room is bugged".

These extracts should arouse enough curiosity to read the book.
It's a scream!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A brilliant book which stands the test of time because Spark's wit is timeless. The wit to snitch on someone for adding cat and dog food into the mix is hilariously funny. This book also made me regard tall women as having the potential splendour as the tall ladies in this novel, Spark really does confound boring everyday expectations in her writing. It is great that Spark's back catalogue is now available as Kindle editions. Spark was truly great Scottish writer.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Rather than regret the decline of great satire, read this and see how our age can still soar above the sixth-form jibes of Private Eye.
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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 15 Oct. 2002
Format: Paperback
(unquote the most formidable of my university tutors, declining to follow up my recommendation that he should see The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).
I had the presence of mind to answer 'Well so have I' but not the gall to say to him 'How about you?' Really she only has a 'bad' mind in the sense we all have bad minds -- there are thoughts we do not lightly own up to. What makes Spark so unique is that the thoughts are so diverse and fanciful. She is all over the place in the best sense, she is as light-footed as a Mendelssohn scherzo, and there is never a demeaning touch in all her writing. I never really know where I am with her. She deals with senility (Memento Mori), satanism (The Ballad of Peckham Rye), fascism (Brodie), epilepsy (The Bachelors) and sexual situations too various to list (passim) like the shallop flitting silken-sailed in The Lady of Shalott. They never become issues, they never become themes and there is often an overlay of the outright fantastic, as when Mrs Georgina Hogg in The Comforters, who has no private life, disappears when she closes her bedroom door behind her.
The Abbess gets 4 stars from me because it is one of her slighter efforts compared with the novels mentioned above and certain others. Anyone getting to know Spark's work could start as well with this as with those, or indeed as well with those as with this. If you can get her wavelength at all this book will not 'lose' you as The Hothouse by the East River might do. I have seen it described as 'a wicked satire on Watergate', a plonking, insensitive characterisation -- you do not pin Spark down like that.
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