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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense, moving and enigmatic
I loved this book! The central character, Sister Bernard, is fascinating and ultimately very engaging - portrayed as stupid and shut off from the world around her, in all kinds of ways, she is not the usual 'romantic heroine' by any means. Her story is beautifully told; it's very intense and moving and it carries the reader along through the years. It's a dark story, told...
Published on 6 Aug. 2011 by Amy J.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars everyone has a story to tell.....................................
I liked this book, but sadly, not as much as I thought I would. I liked the concept of the elderly nuns in the decaying convent, I liked the looking back to the German occupation of France, I liked the idea of the nun loving a man and paying the price. I just didn't like Sister Bernard at all unfortunately. I just kept waiting for more............ I felt that there was...
Published on 13 Oct. 2011 by laineyf


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars everyone has a story to tell....................................., 13 Oct. 2011
By 
laineyf "widnes" (warwickshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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I liked this book, but sadly, not as much as I thought I would. I liked the concept of the elderly nuns in the decaying convent, I liked the looking back to the German occupation of France, I liked the idea of the nun loving a man and paying the price. I just didn't like Sister Bernard at all unfortunately. I just kept waiting for more............ I felt that there was more to be said about the sisters and the hierarchy at the convent, Mother Catherine in particular. I just felt sort of let down, as though there was 'unfinished business' when I'd finished the book. I like the whole 'secrets and lies' thing, but I just felt it needed more........ explanations, reasons, I don't know, it just didn't really work for me.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense, moving and enigmatic, 6 Aug. 2011
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
I loved this book! The central character, Sister Bernard, is fascinating and ultimately very engaging - portrayed as stupid and shut off from the world around her, in all kinds of ways, she is not the usual 'romantic heroine' by any means. Her story is beautifully told; it's very intense and moving and it carries the reader along through the years. It's a dark story, told with a detached, clear prose that I found unsettling, and the religious element is handled very subtly and well. The setting is lovely - you get a real sense of rural France, of war-time living in an occupied village. Generally I found it a sophisticated and thought-provoking book, a wise exploration of love and belief; very ambiguous and actually quite difficult to pin down.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sad but Wise Novel, 6 Oct. 2011
By 
Sally Zigmond (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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Three elderly nuns are the only ones left in a crumbling convent in rural France and are about to leave everything they know. Sister Maria has dementia and is taken to a nursing home where she soon dies. Sisters Teresa and Bernard are on their way to live out the rest of their lives together in a residential home for retired nuns and priests. But at the last minute, Teresa changes her mind and goes to live with an old friend, Corrine, leaving Bernard to face a bleak future alone.

Sister Bernard, obedient, unquestioning, perhaps a little inadequate, has a dark past. Everyone seems to know about it but it is never talked about having been swept under the carpet although a trip to the local village to commemorate the Armistice stirs up old hatreds for her act of betrayal during the German occupation. How could a woman of God have done such a thing?

The novel develops through chapters set in the past and the future through which slowly, Bernard's character and her actions are revealed or, rather, implied. For this is a novel where readers are required to work things out for themselves. We know nothing of the reasons why she took the veil or her parentage, although I believe her father was a deeply unpleasant man and that his was the basis for the voice Bernard assumes is that of God. Bernard constantly craves affection but never receives any which is why she naively falls in love with a German soldier who only pays attention to her because of a bet. Later on she suddenly stops hearing the Voice of God which, although constantly complaining and criticising, had hitherto given her life meaning and purpose. Despite its harshness, at least she was getting the attention she craved. When it is lost to her she is bereft. Teresa ponders where Bernard is a saint or just a deluded or maybe mentally ill woman. This novel explores all these things.

This is one of the saddest novels I have ever read. Although there were times I grew exasperated with Sister Bernard, I felt truly sorry for her. Having been denied love and compassion throughout her life she renders herself unlovable and those who might have cared for her in her later years cannot bring themselves to do so because of it.

To me, 'Obedience' deserves at least to be short-listed for a major literature prize. This is a subtle deeply-layered novel that keeps you thinking long after it has finished.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense, Engrossing and Thought-Provoking, 1 Sept. 2012
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Obedience (Paperback)
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.

4 Stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Obediently, I finished it., 2 Oct. 2011
By 
Brida "izumi" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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When I began this novel, I anticipated awarding it a higher rating than I have given here. Yallop's prose is quite sparse but beautiful. She is able to create a strong sense of atmosphere. However, as I read further into the novel, I became frustrated by it as lthough I had a sense of place, my sense of the characters was not so strong. Sister Bernard, the nun who has the affair with a German soldier and commits the act of betrayal, never seems to be fully grasped. Why she committed this act is relatively unexplored - there is a suggestion that she does it so as to be indispensable to the soldier she loves, but this does not really explain such a terrible act. Likewise, why she so easily begins the affair with the soldier, and therefore disobeys her orders to God, is also unexplained. Even her relationship with God was a mystery - at the beginning, whilst she was hearing Him talk to her, she saw him as a nuiscance; almost like a stroppy child. Then, later, when He is no longer talking to her, she misses Him. Why is slightly unclear. What all of this ambiguity results in is that it is hard connecting with the characters of this novel. In turn, this means it is hard to care for them.

This was such a disappointing read. Although the prose was beautiful in parts, the characterisation let it down badly. Only a few days after finishing this book, already they have slipped from my mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea but difficult to like the characters., 5 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
SPOILER ALERT!
This book was so depressing, there was nothing about it that endeared me to it. Whilst it was not badly written, the characters were all self centred, uncaring and unpleasant. The story centres around three nuns preparing to leave the convent they had lived in for more than half a century. They were all old and were being offered alternative accommodation in care homes. The main character Sister Bernard who was ninety three and her fellow nun Sister Therese who was a young seventy year old, were caring for Sister Marie who was suffering from dementia, and whose main contribution to the story was her inability to hold her bladder, and her wind problems. The story progresses to give more detail of Sister Bernard's younger days and in particular her relationship with a German soldier during the Nazi occupation of France. This relationship led her to betray a fellow nun(she did so, it would appear, not by accident but quite deliberately to impress him, and to help further his career) and caused the death of her best friend and two other villagers, one being a sixteen year old boy who had been brutally tortured prior to being shot. None of this seemed to penetrate the conscience of Sister Bernard whose main concern regarding the event was the loss to her, of her lover. It would appear that Sister Bernard was not overly intelligent( for which of course she could be completely forgiven) also she seemed to be suffering from some kind of mental disorder (she heard God talking to her, and he was not a particularly kind God). What I found hard to forgive about her was her complete lack of empathy. Her German lover sexually abused a child in the church, in such a disgusting manner in front of Sister Bernard and she appeared to think nothing of it, and yet she held a grudge against poor demented Sister Marie for having thrown some flowers away before they wilted some forty years earlier. Unfortunately there was nothing to like about her, or her fellow nuns for that matter. Sister Therese did not want to go into the home with Sister Bernard (and who would blame her) but felt obliged to stay with her so as not to leave her on her own with strangers. She wanted to live with an old friend instead, this friend(another not too pleasant character) deliberately setup the ninety three year old Bernard with the villagers who still hated her, in order for Sister Therese to find out about Sister Bernard's past and enable her to abandon Bernard with a clear conscience. Later in the book when Bernard was unwell and Therese was questioned by the doctor, she said " I do not know her that well" which seems to me a sad reflection on Therese's relationships with her fellow nuns, that she could live in close proximity to someone for fifty three years and not know them that well. It seems that this convent in France was devoid of any real human love and was populated by narcissistic people whose relationship with God seemed to preclude them from any real feeling towards their fellow humans.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enticing & ambiguous, 2 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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What an enticing story! Nuns and particularly old nuns in a decaying convent are not exactly the most exciting subject matter one would have thought. But this novel is very enticing and plays beautifully between one particular nun's relationship with God and the war-time events that threaten to unravel that relationship. This is not a religious novel but a very human one revealing how the weakness and frailty of the human condition under pressure can have far-reaching effects not only on the one who has made a mistake but on the whole community. However shocking the consequences of Sister Bernard's moment of weakness is - her need for human love - for some reason the reader can empathize with her character as her life unfolds in between flashbacks and present moment chapters.

A lingering sadness pervades the novel but somehow the relationship of Sister Bernard with her angry nagging God keeps her going. Occasionally as a reader you get fed up with this nagging presence and wish it to go away and at one point in the novel the grumbling God does disappear but only as a result of Sr Bernard undergoing a traumatic experience. The pace is slow - as slow as the humdrum ritualistic life of a convent. However, the events are far from dull and quite shocking and told with delicate understatement. The reader is enticed to read on. There is a lot of ambiguity in the story which allows the reader to make their assumptions about such things as the nature of Sr Bernard's God, the nature of the relationship between her and the young soldier and between other characters in the story. And it is this ambiguity that lingers on after reading the novel and which is what makes it a good story. Personally, I'd rather not be given all the answers in the plotline. Human relationships are complex and subtle. It is for the reader to tease out what is important.

The background of the war doesn't dominate the story but provides the necessary claustrophobic environment in which the passion for life can enfold. The war setting is like a magnifying glass on the human longing for love whether it be for God or for human love. It is life's longing for itself that drives the plot forward with all the consequences of lust, death, birth, family, dying of friendships, fear and love.

Although many might find this novel with its decrepit old nuns bleak, underlying the whole story is the tremendous smouldering power of the neediness to love and be loved which sets this novel on fire. Here is the human condition.

I'd recommend this novel for reading groups.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Silken Road to Tragedy, 12 Aug. 2011
By 
A. J. Russell-pattison "Tony" (Manchester. U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop

Sister Bernard has not had an easy life but is has been long. Now she is one of only three Sisters of her order left and her convent is to be closed. Her Sisters will leave her and so will her God, if that's what he was.

In almost alternating chapters we access Sr. Bernard's memories of her French convent life under Nazi occupation and her returning to these memories as, in old age, her convent closes and she is placed in a retirement home. Her convent sister's relationships gone we see her tracing or finding the sub relationships of her life. Sub but serious in every sense. The rapist she grew to love, the son adrift, and the granddaughter engulfed but lost. It would be easy to sketch out the details more obviously but that would rob you of the chance to taste the, somehow very French, silky and subtle (if a little slow at first) style of this talented author.

The slight mundanity of the opening chapters' styles (despite their quite startling content) could be a put off for some; however it provides a base for a steady almost seedy incline in passion and interest. The central character, Sr. Bernard is, is both stupid and naive or touched by God (in either the divine sense or the sense of madness). She is certainly unsympathetic in the sense that you don't really connect with her. This for me was like watching the passion of others, wrapped in its meaning but not embedded and encumbered by personal attachment to the participants. This lulled me along so that the sleek turns of emotion and plot were not too obvious to me. It enhanced the experience.

A melancholy tragedy of worth. Well worth a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad and shocking story, 14 Aug. 2011
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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Obedience tells the story of three elderly nuns whose convent is due to close. One of them, Sister Marie, is so addled with dementia that she isn't aware of what is about to happen to her, while Sister Therese is far more worldly and sees their forced eviction as a chance to start living a `normal' life.

Which brings us to the main character in the book, Sister Bernard. The contemporary story is interspersed with flashbacks to Bernard's wartime experiences when the convent was occupied by German soldiers. Although she suffers terribly herself at the hands of two of the soldiers, it is through her own vindictiveness and selfish desire that she becomes involved in a shocking act of collaboration for which the local villagers still hold her responsible.

I found Bernard to be a most unsympathetic character - vain, mean and hypocritical (and, it has to be said, slightly bonkers). I'm not remotely religious and I find the behaviour of zealots such as Bernard (hearing the voice of God, hunger strikes, self-flagellation etc) fascinating and appalling in equal measure.

So, overall quite a thought-provoking read. The novel has been compared to both The Secret Scripture and The Reader, and I can see why. The contemporary story (my favourite part) involving three old ladies being forced out of the home they've lived in for most of their lives is very poignant, but for Bernard the consequences of her wartime acts of betrayal are the greatest tragedy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Held my attention, but only just, 16 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Obedience (Hardcover)
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This book is a story of two halves: of two elderly women moving out of the home they have shared for years (a nunnery) and their former lives during WW2. The jumps in between past and present are handled well, but what is handled less well is the characterisation. I felt all characters were two-dimensional and I didn't understand their motivations. Sister Bernard, the main protagonist, is a nun with a very dark secret - one which haunts her fifty years later. Her reasons for behaving the way she does when she meets a young German soldier are never explained and it's difficult for the reader to understand them. Not only do they go against her way of life as a nun, but they also go against most people's visceral reactions: without giving away the story, there is no reason for Bernard to act as she does, and her action and subsequent lack of regret makes her a very unempathetic character. I found I didn't care about her and thus lost interest in the story.

The writing in itself, this aside, is sparse and works well. I would read another by this author, but I wouldn't re-read this book and I feel comparisons to modern classics such as The Reader are unmerited.
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Obedience
Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop (Hardcover - 1 Aug. 2011)
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