Verity sent me a copy of Frost in May, I thought it would be a lighthearted story about girls in a convent. How wrong I was.
Nanda Grey is nine years old when she enters the Convent of the Five Wounds at Lippington. She settles in and makes friends but under the ever watchful eye of nuns whose disapproving glare is all too present.
This book took me out of my comfort zone in as much as it was most definitely not a cosy read, it made me angry and broke my heart.
'You are very fond of your own way, aren't you, Nanda?'
'Yes, I suppose so, Mother.'
'And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God's own way. I don't think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?'
The daily censorship of mail, rejection of bonds of friendship, humiliation, deprivation and fear in this authoritarian environment had me wondering why anyone would send their child to this place! On a couple of occasions, Nanda, hopes with all her heart to be stricken with an illness as a way of escaping what amounts to daily mental and emotional abuse. Or as Mother Percival would see it, the breaking of one's will.
'A good Catholic should live constantly in the spiritual presence of death. Now, my dear little sisters, I want each one of you to imagine that you are lying on your death-bed....'
Like a dog that is abused by its master and yet still licks the hand that beats it, Nanda begs for a second chance when faced with expulsion. I would offer to pack her bags and tell her to run.
For a story that started out feeling like a fairly innocuous 'school story' it turned out to be quite disturbing. But it is definitely one that I will never forget. For years I have been reading for pure pleasure and even though this was not an enjoyable read, I do feel that I gained from the experience. Thank you, Verity.