SACRED HEARTS by SARAH DUNANT.
1570 in the Italian city of Ferrara. Sixteen-year-old Serafina is ripped by her family from an illicit love affair and forced into the convent of Santa Caterina, renowned for its superb music. Serafina's one weapon is her glorious voice, but she refuses to sing. Madonna Chiara, an abbess as fluent in politics as she is in prayer, finds her new charge has unleashed a power play - rebellion, ecstasies and hysterias - within the convent. However, watching over Serafina is Zuana, the sister in charge of the infirmary, who understands and might even challenge her incarceration.
..... Outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1: Part 1): Before the screaming starts, the night silence of the convent is alive with its own particular sounds.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 365): Zuana does not ask - because she knows it would be refused - but she would give anything to open up the chest and abdomen of the cadaver to search for signs of further holiness.
MY THOUGHTS: On my wish list for longer than I care to think about, I finally got to read Sacred Hearts with my reading group and what a disappointment it was.
Essentially the tale of two nuns, Suora Zuana and the novice, Serafina, though almost all of the story takes place within the Benedictine convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrara, Italy at the very heart of the novel is a tender romance that alas was given such scant regard that I almost wondered why it had been included at all.
Concentrating largely on the workings in and around the convent's hospital and dispensary Sarah Dunant did a great job in so far as her knowledge of the medical knowledge at that time goes, her portrayal of religious fervour and the various tensions (sexual, political and otherwise) though largely implied rather than overly direct almost painfully tangible but at over 450 pages it was just too long a read and even more so given that almost all of the story was carried by the two main characters whilst a whole cast of secondary characters were there begging to be used.
Way too detailed (something I didn't think was possible), the finer details at times taken precedence over the storyline, on occasion the author, like a dog worrying a bone, becoming repetitive in her eagerness to impress upon the reader certain details, sadly I found this a stilted, painful read.
KEEP IT OR NOT?: Not a book I'll be buying.
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