The Convent by Panos Karnezis

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The Convent by Panos Karnezis

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Laura Bailey
Reviewed by Laura Bailey
Summary: Written by 2004 Whitbread Award nominee Panos Karnezis, The Convent is a strange book in that it manages to capture the serenity of a convent while at the same time keeping the reader on tenterhooks as the plot unfolds.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224079341

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Our Lady of Mercy is a small convent on the Spanish sierra made up of a handful of devoted nuns who live their lives simply, carrying out their daily duties like clockwork. However things change when a suitcase containing a newborn baby is left mysteriously outside the convent doors. The Mother Superior, Sister Maria Ines, believes the baby to be a miracle and plans to keep him in the convent, but the other sisters do not agree. During the events that follow the true characters of the nuns inside the convent are revealed and the peace that the sisters enjoy is stripped away to show the tension that has been bubbling away under the surface.

This book really drew me in. I started wary of it, the syntax was slightly odd in places and I found that I needed to read some of the sentences through a few times before I could make sense of them. However, despite some odd wording, the language is wonderfully poetic in places without ever becoming too flouncy, making the novel enchanting yet accessible to read.

The plot was beautifully nuanced and as the story developed the book became a real page-turner. Each character in the plot is given a chance to get their story and their point across, keeping the reader constantly changing their mind as to which character is making the right decisions and who to side with. This trick of keeping the reader unsure as to who the heroes and villains of the piece are acts as an interesting comment on the fluidity of morality and shows the author's skill as he unveils the events.

The only fault I could really find with this book, aside from the sometimes confusing sentence structure, was that reconciling the past and present versions of the main character, Sister Maria Ines, was quite difficult. Despite the fact that when the flashbacks begin is when the book starts to get interesting, to me the old and young versions of the same character were too different, with not enough traits holding them together for me to be able to imagine that the person I was reading about had really been through the things she talks about in the flashbacks.

There was also a great many, not particularly subtle, references to storks, who have their own story going on in the background. And as we all know storks deliver babies. The continual references to the storks seemed a little crude, and added nothing to the plot. This device seemed a bit like the author was trying too hard to add depth to the story, which had enough going on to be interesting anyway.

Overall I thought this book was really good. Karnezis leaves the reader with just the right amount of work to do and gives just the right amount of clues to keep you trying to work out the next plot twist and to make you think 'of course' when he finally reveals it. This book kept me unable, right up to the end, to decide which character I sided with and which direction the plot was going in. This book is gripping without losing the sense of place necessary with a setting such as a convent, a masterful storyteller, Karnezis holds his reader in the palm of his hand.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you liked The Convent then you should try Shadow of Death by Alison Joseph for another exploration of the real women underneath the habits.

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Buy The Convent by Panos Karnezis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Convent by Panos Karnezis at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Convent by Panos Karnezis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Convent by Panos Karnezis at Amazon.com.

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