Saturday, 30 March 2013
Mr Dean the English agent has spent many years in India and provides the carpentry, maintenance and building design for the nuns as well as offering practical advice which the nuns often choose to ignore. Whether it is the high altitude of the Himalayas or the bad reputation of the palace something begins to affect the nuns. Sister Phillipa becomes obsessed with ordering plants for the garden, Sister Clodagh keeps reliving her past in Ireland, Sister Honey yearns for a child of her own and Sister Ruth can't keep her eyes of Mr Dean. Only Sister Briony remains the same.
Sister Ruth is a fascinating character. Young and vulnerable, there is a suggestion that she became a nun after suffering some sort of mental illness. She has glittering green eyes and is nicknamed the Snake-Faced Sister by Ayah. She is convinced that Sister Clodagh likes Mr Dean and is bitter with jealousy. Rumer Godden builds a tense, simmering atmosphere and events come to a head when a woman brings a dying baby to the dispensary. Sister Honey tries to help the baby despite being warned by Mr Dean never to treat a dying child. Sister Ruth then goes looking for Mr Dean ...can't say anymore or it will give the game away!
Rumer Godden wrote Black Narcissus on the upper birth of a ship travelling from India to England with her baby in the bunk below. She was just 32 when it was published in 1939. It bought her money, fame, success and unhappiness, too. You must read it.