Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: The Land of Spices

In a convent school in the Ireland of the 1930s, O'Brien weaves the parallel tales of a sensitive young pupil and the lonely mother superior who sees promise in her. Anna Murphey, daughter of an alcoholic father, weak mother, and dictatorial grandmother, finds solace only in the companionship of her younger brother, Charlie. Away at school from a young age, Anna's academic talents create a barrier between her and her classmates, and they run her afoul of certain of the most jealous nuns. Compounding Anna's problems is the fact that she is emotionally isolated from her mostly useless family. Her drunk father, her dominating grandmother, and her spineless mother all exist outside of Anna's emotional world.

O'Brien is clearly cognizant of the dangers of convent education for sensitive young women like Anna. The book suggests that loneliness and unhappiness is the lot of the thinking, feeling woman, as epitomized by Anna and the mother superior. Loneliness is endemic. The only happy women in the book are some of the simpering, unthinking elder students.

The book also provides a strong indictment against the provincialism of Irish nationalism. The Irish nationalists in O'Brien's work are univerally short-sighted and unsure of why they support their cause. In short, they are incapable of seeing the forest for the trees.

This is an interesting, thinking novel, which provides a fascinating look at life in a convent school.

Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices (Virago, 2006) ISBN:


niesaandanbolynread said...

I plan to read this for Virago Reading Week so am glad to get your thoughts before I embark.

fleurfisher said...

Thank you for a reminder of such a lovely book. Kate O'Brien is so good at weaving together lovely writing and storytelling with serios issues.

Laurie said...

Virago reading week???!!! I think I need in on that!