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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Letter To Sister Benedicta
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

on 19 May 2014
This was a moving, honest insight into a woman's thoughts and memories, dealing pragmatically with the shocks, disappointments and betrayals throughout her life as written to her former convent teacher, Sister benedicta. Written in true Tremain style - elegant prose, very human characters, and somehow at the end, the triumph of love and hope.
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on 27 November 2010
Loved this book, another Rose Tremain triumph. I have a very odd relationship with Rose Tremain's work, I don't like all of her books, and I have read many. I think this is part of her magic is that she is not formulaic and there may be others like me who prefer what I do not.
Great writer.
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on 3 June 2015
Having read a large number of Rose Tremain's books, I have come to terms with the softening that has occurred since her earlier, edgier works. The story of Ruby is that of a middle-aged woman coming to terms with the banality of her married existence, her thoughts exposed through her letters to Sister Benedict's, a childhood carer.

Overall the piece is a wonderful character study, the other characters fleshed out just enough to give context. I recommend all of 's Tremain's books as she is a gifted writer - but if this is your first experience of her work, you will need to taste one of her others such as Restoration or Music and Silence to fall in love, like many have, with the wonder of Rose Tremain.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 January 2012
Rose Tremain's second novel 'Letter to Sister Benedicta' is an absorbing story, first person narrated by the story's main protagonist, Ruby Constad. Ruby, as she describes herself, is fat and fifty, educated only to be a wife and mother, and now that her husband is critically ill in hospital and her children have left home, she wonders what her place in life will now be.

Leon, Ruby's husband, lies in a nursing home after a massive stroke that has left him paralysed, and poor Ruby now spends her days preparing for, attending, and recovering from her daily visits to Leon's bedside. In her distress Ruby appeals for help by writing letters, that will never be sent, to Sister Benedicta, a nun who taught Ruby when she was at school in India; and, by writing these letters Ruby describes to the reader, the events that led up to Leon's stroke, whilst she tries to make sense of her own life.

There is no getting away from the fact that this is a sad tale, but it is an absorbing one, covering love, the death of love, old age, lesbianism, incest, deception, infidelity, life and death - quite a wide range for a novel of only 175 pages, but Rose Tremain tackles these themes and she does it excellently. And the wonderful thing is that, although one would think this story would be depressing, it isn't. And this is because Ruby, beneath her diffident appearance, is actually a strong and generous character who does not wallow in self-pity and, despite her difficulties, she actually gets through by using not just her common sense, but also her sense of humour. By the end of the novel we see that she has taken control of her life in a way that many, in a similar situation, would find daunting. Rose Tremain is such a versatile writer with an original talent and, although I have enjoyed some of her novels more than others, I can honestly say that she never really disappoints.

4 Stars.
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on 7 November 2016
Nearly 200 pages of predominantly prose, with little dialogue and white space, and yet, I could hardly put the book down. Different to the other Rose Tremain's I've read & loved (particularly The Colour and Music & Silence), the Letters to Sister Benedicta trace the inner rambles of Ruby's fracturing self after a traumatic year bringing her safe, ordinary and quietly unhappy life tumbling down. That destruction ultimately frees Ruby to begin a journey of self-discovery. We don't get to see that journey, only the events leading up to Ruby's first tentative steps outside the cocoon of her previous life in which she was smothered by personalties far less sensitive and far more selfish than she.

Her parents, mean & miserable with their fading memories of previous glory; her urine soaked grandmother in the crumbling manor house; her domineering & unfaithful husband; her ghastly mother in law- an eternal victim; her morally bankrupt children; her weak English lover, supplanted in his wife's affections by a swarthy skinned & passionate foreigner and the ominously silent Sister Benedicta all play their part in deepening the confusion Ruby experiences around who she is and what kind of life she's capable of living.

On the surface, this is a novel of hope, but there's an oppressive thread of melancholy interwoven in this story. Ruby, too, is so passive, so very smothered by her lack of self-love and her desire to please/help everyone but herself that even the beginning of her Great Adventure at the end of the book leaves one with a niggling doubt that, here too, she fell into that path rather than actively choosing it for herself.

This short but complex story has excellent characterisations and provokes deep thinking - Ruby, in her self-destructive passivity, having been so cowed & diminished by the "soldiers" in her life, is the perfect analogy for the countries colonised under Queen Victoria's push towards the Great British Empire: India, in particular, as India is where Ruby & her parents lived, but also Zimbabwe & South Africa, all left with a low self-esteem about their abilities, their true natures and their warm vibrant passions so unlike the cold superiority of the colonising western empire. In Ruby's ambivalence about Leon's dying - her almost unrecognised longing for freedom, buried in her Pavlovian responses of sacrificing her identity & her needs to serve her dying husband, and in her first tentative steps towards an independent self-hood free of the smothering rules and demands so alien to her true nature, I see an echo of the path previously colonised countries had to walk when the conquering soldiers finally left.

Another gem from Rose Tremain, even if its depths are not immediately clear in the quiet ordinariness of Ruby's sad existence.

Memorable quotes:

"Leon had such a sure sense of his own identity and was so absolutely purposeful in all that he did, that within a very short time I had put away most of myself"

"Godmother Louise being “a good Marxist” and found it rather strange. I think I decided that she was only a good Marxist deep down in her soul and that she let the rest of herself be rather a bad Marxist. And the bad Marxist in her kept on and on going to five-star hotel rooms where enormous bouquets arrived “courtesy of the management” and where she sipped away, guiltless, at the finest champagne a bourgeois capitalist society can produce. At least she had been right about India. Her loathing for the idea of empire had been as strong as Queen Victoria’s love of it. She despised my parents for their snobbishness and their loveless ways. It was a kind of sickness, she said, their terrible pride and reserve, and I must be cured of it. I must forget the school for the daughters of the high-ranking officers, no longer think of myself as a daughter of a high-ranking officer, or even as a Catholic, because these were the masks to hide behind and until I threw them away, these masks, threw them away and never put them on again, I wouldn’t know myself. “This is why so many of us are lost, Ruby,” she said, “this is why your mother and father are so lost: they are crouching down behind their masks; they believe they are their masks and without them they will be nothing!”"

"No one in India seemed to have a feeling for helpfulness, only a feeling for what is right, and it took me a long time to see that almost everything they thought was right was actually not all that right, but in fact rather wrong. And this deficiency in helpfulness, I mean, I’ve had it all my life and I blame India, but who can say if it was India or if it wasn’t born in me..."

(NOTE - This review is for the USA Kindle edition)
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on 22 February 2014
Title describes the book well. Ruby is an insipid, downtrodden character for many reasons and uses the format of writings letters she will never send to explore things that happen to her and her own feelings about them. I enjoyed it in a quiet, unassuming sort of way but the majority view in our reading group was of irritation with the main character!
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on 19 May 2017
Very moving and thoughtful book, good understanding of her central character, was so glad she won out in the end, despite her many insecurities.
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on 17 August 2016
I have not read this yet. BUT, she is a great writer so I would be surprised if I did not like it
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on 29 September 2015
Another excellent Tremain story!
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on 5 August 2014
I love Rose Tremain...
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