Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines

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Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A middle-aged nun comes to terms with her past, confronts some painful memories, and eventually finds some peace. A powerful novel set in Ireland, with past and present skilfully intertwining.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 377 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Transita
ISBN: 978-1905175291

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Sister Pius, a tall and rather austere nun, comes to teach at Kildoran Primary School while the normal teacher is away. The children at the school find her over-strict, and the other nuns find her too private and rather abrupt. Besides that, there's obviously some mystery surrounding her past: we first meet Sister Pius at a funeral, where an elderly woman in a wheelchair is terrified at seeing her.

This is an excellent book, with writing that drew me in right from the first page. Much of the focus of the book is on Emer Fagan, a harrassed wife and caring mother, who is also the daughter of the wheelchair-bound woman. Emer observes and wonders, but understands very little of what is going on. She works hard, taking life fairly phlegmatically, while often wishing it could be different. As the story unfolds, it's often seen through Emer's eyes, and I found myself relating to her probably more than anyone.

There are a large number of characters, many of whom I couldn't remember from day to day - but somehow, it didn't matter. There are several viewpoints, too, sometimes switching rapidly from one to another, but the writing is so skillful that I didn't find it annoying at all. There were times when it was obvious what was going to happen - or what would be revealed - but I didn't skip any pages; instead I felt the tension of the characters as they gradually realised what I had already known.

That's not to say that the plot was predictable. There were plenty of surprises, although none that felt wrong. Clues about the past were given along the way, and I assume that my own discoveries while reading were exactly what the author intended me to think, at the time I was supposed to think them. There's a lengthy flashback to 1930 in the middle of the book, but even that didn't jar in any way. It was seamlessly done, in absolutely the right place, to reveal more of what happened to create the situation in the main part of the story.

There is a dark side to the book - some horrific circumstances are uncovered, and some very unsavoury characters. Once again, though, the author got the balance exactly right from my perspective, with little or no gruesome description. Most of the horror is left to the imagination of the reader, which is a far more effective technique. I was reminded more than once of Maeve Binchy as I read. This was partly due to the Irish setting, with convent schools and small villages, but there was something in the style too, and the way the story unfolded so well with no extraneous words, no pointless dialogue, and no unnecessary descriptions.

All in all, I highly recommend this. My thanks to the publishers for sending it.

If you enjoy this, you might also like anything by Maeve Binchy, such as Evening Class.

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Buy Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines at


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