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Sylvia Townsend Warner has seemed to have fallen into neglect over the past years, and this is undeservedly so. Her novels and short stories have always been admired by those in the know as they are so well written. There are probably a number of reasons why she has been forgotten and one could lay with this book. The main body of the book takes place between 1349-1382 and has a whole host of characters, indeed there isn't one overall character that stands out from the rest as such, although untrue to a lesser degree. This in an historical novel (which weren't that popular when this was first written) and this style of writing has possibly discouraged some readers.

In the first chapter we find out how a convent is formed and then we are taken to it being established and an idea of a spire being added to the church. This is more about the community of the convent than individuals and whilst we start off with an outbreak of plague only certain major events in the period this covers seems to be ever known by the nuns. The convent, set in the Fens in Norfolk is to a degree isolated and most information and gossip they receive are from travellers, and religious visitors. As with any community the nuns have their own ambitions and foibles. With a murder, a priest who isn't and other events this is a book that you can really get into.

There is quite a bit of humour here, especially with all the rumours that appear over things that happen in the area. One thing happens and different people seem to know all about it, although what they say is highly elaborated and tall tales are common. People leave and die, and others arrive, and this with only certain events filtering through to the nuns from the outside world give this particular tale a feeling of timelessness. This may not be something that you would normally read, but if you decide to get this, once you have started it is hard to put down.
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on 31 May 2013
A slow read but very satisfying. Set in Norfolk in the 14th century and spanning just over 30 years (although it feels much longer) a cold, sparse, desolate landscape and the story is desolate as well in places, although there is humour as well.

Here and there in this mainly grey drabness - place and story - there are beautiful phrases, images that stop you dead in your tracks while you think them through. They are like jewels in the mud.

At one point I was rather confused by the names of some of the characters - Alice, Alicia, Adela - what is it about names all beginning with the same letter? And why stop at A? But maybe this is just me and one of my pet dislikes.

All in all it's a lovely read. It meanders along like one of the little streams in the landscape, occasionally silting up but usually just trickling steadily along.

I read this as a tree book by the way and if I read it again it will have to be on the Kindle as the font was tiny tiny tiny!
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on 1 December 2013
The life of a convent in deepest Norfolk between 1349 and 1382 sounds like a recipe for the most uneventful of tales. It is - even though it begins with a murder and ends with a "loss of virginity" (rape) - but STW makes this the most eventful of uneventful tales. The Black Death, Peasants Revolt, Crusades and the Lollards are all "voices off" the stage of Oby Priory but the tale of the Prioresses & Nuns during those years is fascinating. I really like STW. She and her books are hidden treasures of English Literature.
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on 26 July 2015
An amazingly detailed picture of early medieval England and monastic life.
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on 18 May 2016
Perfect - as described and promptly delivered
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In general I liked the book, but I found it some times that is was difficult to follow a line of plot. May be I did not get it, or it was the intention of the author.
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on 7 August 2013
Good - felt rather like you were eavesdropping on the convent rather than a standard plot driven novel, however that is a real problem when it gets to the end because it doesn't! No tying up of loose ends, nothing! For which I docked it 1 star from the 4 I would otherwise have given it. I wanted to know if they raised the money for new plate etc etc. I must say that it felt like a reasonable, if grim, depiction of the realities of a medieval English convent; fleas, rioting peasants, petty politics and unappealing food. Closer to my idea of hell than heaven.
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on 7 July 2014
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