Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

sarah dunantSarah Dunant is the author of international bestsellers.  She has homes in London, England and Florence, Italy.  She researches carefully but I did not enjoy this book. It was a recent read in my book group. I would not have chosen the book myself.

The story is set in 1570 in the Italian city of Ferrara.  The convent of Santa Caterina is filled with noble women who are married to Christ because they cannot find husbands on the outside.   Enter 16 year old Serafina, howling with rage and hormones and determined to escape.   Her arrival disrupts the harmony and stability of the convent, as overseen by Madonna Chiara, an abbess as fluent in politics as she is in prayer.   She assigns the novice into the care of Suora Zuana, the scholarly nun who runs the dispensary and treats all manner of sickness, from pestilence and melancholy to self-inflicted wounds.

An unlikely relationship builds between the two women, others figures stand watching and waiting; most notably the sacrednovice mistress, Suora Umiliana, a crusader for God and ever stricter piety and the mysterious, decrepit Suora Magdalena, incarcerated in her cell with a history of ecstasy and visions.

This book is well researched and well crafted, and the descriptions are detailed. Perhaps too detailed to keep the work interesting.  The author is keen for you too appreciate how clever she is and how much work she has put into her research. This gets old very fast. A writer should wear their research lightly not choke the reader with it.

The story line is completely unbelievable and a very secondary part of the piece when compared to the description of life in a 16th Century convent.  I cannot recommend this work.


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